Or how to be a happy caregiver when you just don’t feel like it!
Winter is upon us and as the days getting shorter, it seems our mood, energy and patience get shorter too. During this time of year many struggle with feelings of sadness and irritability. Add the stress of being a family caregiver and you are faced with a double challenge. So how do you know if it is just the winter blues or if it is something more serious? And when you do figure out the cause, what can you do about it? As you continue to make caring for the caregiver a priority this year, I want to you to focus on the one Caregiver Right that many of you silently struggle with on a daily basis. “I have the right to get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally.”
The emotional ups and downs of caregiving
Being a caregiver is one of the most important and rewarding jobs one can do for another. And most caregiving days are filled with feelings of love and gratitude. But the reality is that some days are harder than others. As caregivers, you make your loved one’s needs a priority and put your own needs aside. But when we continually disregard our own needs and feelings it can lead to problems down the road. Feelings of sadness, grief and frustration will build and eventually surface in outbursts of anger or episodes of depression. So how do you manage all of the emotions of being a caregiver especially the ones that are difficult?
Permission to feel
As always we must start by giving ourselves permission to feel whatever it is that we are feeling. And sometimes – actually many times – this is all we need to do to make ourselves feel better. To allow us to just be sad, angry or frustrated really does make it easier to let these feeling go and to move on. But when we try to ignore or push these feelings aside is when they get stuck to fester and grow. Most of the time we try to ignore them because we think we are powerless. “I can’t do anything about it so why bother?” The thoughts of helplessness to our circumstances only lead to more frustration. The truth is that you must first acknowledge your feelings then know that you can do something about them.
When it’s the Winter Blues
Also known as Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD), the feelings of low energy, sadness and irritability are usually caused by the conditions of the season rather then anything going on in our lives. The reduced sunlight and tendency to want to hibernate in the winter affect some people more adversely than others. You know it is the winter blues if your symptoms lessen on very sunny days and generally go away when the season changes.
But what can you do about it so you can continue to function effectively until the season changes. Since it is primary a biological response to the season then physical interventions works best. Increase your exposure to sunlight, or use daylight bulbs. Watch what you eat, high carbohydrate foods tend to spike your blood sugar that is then followed by a period of lethargy. Stay physically active either through more exercise or getting more involved in social activities.
When it is more than just the season
Is it Stress?
Caregivers generally struggle emotionally because they are feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being caregiver. Caregiving is a fulltime job that many people can only allot part time hours to accomplish. Managing these additional responsibilities after work or in between a busy life of their own can create quite a strain. When our stress level is too high we are less able to cope with even the smallest bump in the road. Many caregivers have been reduced to tears over a simple mishap or change in schedule. Learning how to balance the multiple demands of caregiving will significantly alleviate the emotional toll that caregiving can take on you.
Is it Grief?
Many family caregivers are grieving without even realizing it. Some have lost a loved one and are grieving that actual loss but most are struggling with a form of anticipatory grief. Family caregivers tend to underestimate the grief they are experiencing now over the actual or future loss of the one they are caring for today. Those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are experiencing a significant loss of “who” their loved one “used to be”. There is real sadness and grief in this daily reminder of what has already been lost, their loved one’s personality, memories and connection. Acknowledge the losses you have and allow yourself to feel the sadness it triggers. Use these emotions as a reminder to make the most of the time you have with your loved one today.
Is it Depression?
A serious issue for anyone, the symptoms of depression can significantly impact a person’s ability to function. Depression is very different from the blues or grief or even the emotional roller coaster of stress. These persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness require a more proactive intervention. Connecting to a good therapist to talk through your issues along with medication to alleviate the symptoms are the most effective interventions.
Being aware when your mood or attitude is off balance is an important first step to being a happy caregiver. After you acknowledge your feelings, then the real work begins to figure out why. Whether it is just the winter blues or something more serious like depression, be proactive to find a solution to get you back on track. Remember to take care of yourself first so you can provide the best care for your loved one.
I hope you found this helpful. Please be sure to send me your questions and feedback by clicking on the comments word above.
So until next time – take care of yourself and know that there is
…help for the journey