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Your Needs

Emotional Needs

Since so much energy and attention are focused on the patient, you may begin to feel invisible -- like you don't matter. In their concern for the patient, doctors, nurses, other family members, and friends may overlook how difficult the situation is for you. You must try not to let yourself get lost in caring for the patient. Always remember that you, too, have needs and desires. And, by addressing your needs, you can help ensure that your loved one will receive better care.

Paying Attention to Your Feelings

Caring for your loved one can bring with it a number of feelings and emotional reactions. You have the right to feel any emotion that you have.  The following checklist can help you recognize whether you are feeling any of the emotions commonly felt by caregivers, and when you may need professional help to deal with these feelings:

Anxiety

Worrying a lot.
Feeling stressed out, edgy, or overwhelmed.
Ruminating about little things.
Having repetitive thoughts.
Feeling short of breath.
Having tense muscles.
Feeling that something terrible is going to happen.

Tips for coping with anxiety

Sadness/Depression

Feeling down in the dumps.
Frequent crying and tearfulness.
Poor appetite and significant weight loss.
Increased appetite and significant weight gain.
Sleeping too much or too little.
Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
Loss of motivation or energy.
Feeling worthless.
Inability to think or concentrate.
Thinking about death or suicide.

Tips for coping with depression

Anger/Frustration

Feeling easily annoyed.
Feeling irritable.
Feeling powerless to change the situation.
Feeling like you want to give up.
Feeling helpless.
Feeling like your loved one or the situation is not living up to your expectations.
Acting aggressively toward others.
Getting mad about little annoyances.
Throwing or hitting objects.
Experiencing increased heart beat/pulse and breathing, or clenching your jaws when confronting irritating incidents.
Feeling hostile toward others.
Displaying irrational behavior.

Tips for coping with anger

Grief

Experiencing emotional pain associated with the loss of anything that is an important part of your life.
Feeling sad about changes in the person you love, and your relationship with him/her.
Being disappointed about lost hopes, dreams, and plans for the future.
Feeling upset about changes in your social life and relationships.
Feeling disappointed about changes in your work/professional life and in your career goals.

Tips for coping with grief

Guilt

Feeling like you have done something wrong.
Feeling like you are not doing enough for the patient.
Feeling like you should not enjoy yourself because the patient is unable to.
Feeling bad about your thoughts and feelings.
Having regrets about past or present relationship problems with the patient.
Feeling like you could have done something to prevent the patient's illness.
Feeling like you should not be the healthy one.
Feeling like you have neglected other friends or family members due to caregiving.

Tips for coping with guilt

Tips For Coping With Your Emotions

Anxiety (Symptoms of anxiety):

Prepare yourself as a caregiver by reading books or searching on the Internet.
Make a list of all the things you are worried about and then try to come up with steps to reduce your anxiety about each concern.
Learn about your loved one's illness by talking to the doctor, reading books or patient materials about the disease, and using the Internet.
Talk to other caregivers by joining a support group, chat rooms on the Internet, or linking up with other caregivers through advocacy groups.
Watch a funny movie or television show, read a comic, or do something else that will help make you laugh.
Do some exercise. Doing physical activity can help relieve your tension and clear your mind.
Take some slow, deep breaths and distract yourself from anxious thoughts by using imagery or a relaxation exercise (More information on relaxation).
Realize that your worries may be exaggerated in your mind and take control of these thoughts by putting them in proper perspective.
Consider whether it would be best to seek professional help.

Depression (Symptoms of depression):

One of the best ways to ease depression is to go out and focus your attention on something else.
Talk about your feelings to a close friend or family member, mental health professional, or support group.
Try to make some positive changes in your life, which will make you feel better.
Exercise. The natural chemicals that get released when you exercise can give you an emotional boost.
Consider professional help.

Anger (Symptoms of anger):

Don't let anger bottle up. Express your feelings in a calm, constructive way as you experience them.
Question whether you are justified in being angry.
Think about whether getting angry will make a difference in the situation.
Consider the other person's point of view before getting upset.
Consider your expectations of the other person or the situation to see if they are realistic. If not, try to change your expectations so that you will not be so easily angered or disappointed.
Use "I feel..." language when expressing feelings to others rather than placing blame or accusing them. For example, instead of saying, "you never help me around the house," you might say, "I feel upset because I think that I am not getting any help around the house."
Calm yourself down with some slow, deep breaths and distract yourself from angry thoughts by using imagery or a relaxation exercise (More information on relaxation).
It does no good to hold onto angry feelings. Let go of your anger and move on.
Talk to an objective, uninvolved party about your feelings to vent and get another perspective.
Laugh...think of something funny when you feel your anger getting out of control. It is difficult to feel angry when you are laughing.
Try to keep your focus on the present situation and don't let old anger or pain get confused with your feelings about the present situation.
(Adapted from Sobel D. & Ornsten R. [1995] Defusing Anger and Hostility. Mental Medicine Update, Vol. 4[3], p 3-6.)

Grief (Symptoms of grief):

Allow yourself to grieve for changes in your life and plans for the future.
Try to focus more on the positive things in your life, rather than the things you have lost.
Do not isolate yourself from family and friends who care about you.
Know that feelings of grief and loss are normal and that, given time, the acute pain will subside.
Express your feelings to the patient or others close to you.
Take control of the situation by transforming your expectations for the future.
Make a new plan for the future based on the positive things that you have in your life.
Talk to a mental health professional or join a support group.

Guilt (Symptoms of guilt):

Guilt can come from feeling bad about thinking "unacceptable" thoughts. Try not to let yourself feel guilty about thinking such things and let them pass.
Express guilty thoughts and feelings to a friend, support group, or mental health professional. Chances are, it will help you recognize that your guilty feelings are natural.
If you have done something to feel guilty about, try to talk to the patient and seek his/her forgiveness. You will feel much better if you clear your conscience!
Try to let go of your guilt and accept that you are doing the best you can under the circumstances.
Most often, guilt comes from irrational thoughts, such as thinking that you have not done enough for the patient. Don't let your thoughts get the better of you. You must recognize that these are unjustified thoughts that are not necessarily based on any real evidence.

Making Time for You

Everyone gets stressed out and needs a break sometimes -- most of all, caregivers! It is vital for you to take some time away so that you do not become overwhelmed by the stress that caregiving can bring. Even short breaks can restore and renew your emotional energy. However, taking breaks requires planning. Begin by arranging for alternative care for the patient for a short amount of time. Do something that you enjoy. As you and the patient become more comfortable, you can begin to increase the length of your outside activities.

Tips for planning time for yourself:

Don't feel guilty about wanting or needing time away from your duties as a caregiver.
Know that it is okay and necessary for you to have some time for yourself.
Make a list of people whom you trust to care for the patient during your absence. Then ask someone.
If you don't have anyone in your social circle, you can obtain a volunteer or hire someone for a short time. You may be able to locate such people through churches or synagogues, or local agencies.
Start off slowly, by making plans to spend a short time away from the patient.
Don't let the patient make you feel bad about leaving. Having some time apart can make each of you feel a little more independent.
Remember that as long as the patient has proper supervision, your absence will not put the patient at risk.
Try to enjoy yourself and not worry too much while you are away. Allow yourself time to focus on you.

Expressing Your Feelings

It is common to spend so much of your energy supporting the patient that you end up ignoring, holding back, or failing to recognize your own feelings about the situation. Continuously ignoring your own feelings can be very dangerous.  Feelings can build up until you become so stressed that you can no longer handle the situation. For this reason, it is extremely important for you to identify and address the feelings that you are having. Here are some specific, appropriate ways to express and cope with your emotions.

Tips for expressing your feelings:

Identify what it is that you are feeling and allow yourself to accept the emotions as a natural response to caregiving.
Do not bottle up your feelings.
Share what you are feeling with the patient, if you feel it's appropriate.
Call a close friend or family member with whom you can discuss your feelings.
Write down your thoughts and feelings in a private journal.
Join a local support group for caregivers or families of ill patients.
Get a referral to speak to a professional therapist who can help you understand and deal with your emotions.
Speak to a chaplain, priest, rabbi, minister, or other religious figure.

 

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