How to cope with the pressure of caring for a loved one? Caring for a friend or family member, someone you love dearly and would do anything for, who has a terminal or chronic condition, is a selfless, rewarding job, but it can also be incredibly stressful. It’s exhausting. It will put a strain on you and your relationships.
It will change you, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. Never has there been such a dynamic job before. Here’s the highs and lows and how to cope with the pressure of caring for a loved one…
To put it bluntly, it’s hard. But in some cases, it’s totally necessary – and many people are happy to do it, despite the issues it can cause for them.
Because we understand how much pressure caring for a loved one can bring, we’ve put together some ways for you to cope. Remember, though, if it all feels as though it’s just too much, the very best thing you can do is ask for help from the people around you, your GP, or organisations such as the Samaritans.
Dealing with anger and frustration
Frustrated and angry are completely understandable ways to feel when you are caring for a loved one who is extremely unwell, and for whom you’re trying your best. You’ll wonder why it’s happening to them, and to you. The question we need to address under these new circumstances is – how to cope with the pressure of caring for a loved one?
You may miss your old life. It’s natural to feel angry in times of unexpected change. You’ll feel frustrated that they and you are suffering. How can you cope with these feelings?
Keep a diary
A diary or journal is a great way to help you through the toughest of times – and the good times too. You can vent your anger through your words, written down in a raw state, detailing exactly how you’re feeling. Take 10 minutes each day to get it all out of your head and onto paper.
Go for a walk
When you have a moment to yourself, don’t sit and stare at the four walls that you’re surrounded by all the time; get out of the house and go for a walk. Breathe in deeply and take the time to notice nature. Count the birds, look closely at the leaves, watch the clouds scudding across the sky. Your brain will re-set and you’ll be able to think more clearly.
Find someone to talk to
A friend, a counsellor, someone on the end of a helpline… whichever works for you. Sometimes talking to someone who knows you and your loved one is best, and sometimes it needs to be a stranger. The point is, simply talking through how you’re feeling can make you feel so much better.
Overcoming feelings of guilt
Much of the time, guilt follows anger. You’ll feel guilty because you’re feeling angry when it’s no one’s fault and it’s just a very unfortunate set of circumstances. You won’t be able to help it, though – guilt will creep up on you. Here’s what to do when it does.
When things get tough and you need to create a more relaxed atmosphere find ways you and your loved one can work together. You can do this by making a list of the things they want and working out how you can give it to them. This could range from anything such as keeping to familiar routines and not rushing them when they are trying to do something to including them in family activities and giving them some quiet time each day wherein you might listen to music together, or read, or just sit in the garden relaxing.
If you’re doing things that you know they want, you’ll feel less guilty and some of these activities will give you the opportunity to relax too.
Make things simple
Your guilt might be coming from the fact that you’re trying to do too much, and you’re unable to manage it all. Reduce your ‘to-do’ list down to the essentials so that you can absolutely get it all done, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. As you start to get stronger you can add more to the list until you’re accomplishing everything you want to.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
It’s likely you’ll sometimes have thoughts that make you feel guilty. You might wish for your old, easier life back. You might realise that when the person you’re caring for has passed, you’ll feel a form of relief. It may not be pleasant for you to have these thoughts, but they are natural. So be kind to yourself.
Coping with depression
The longer you care for someone you love, the more likely it is that you will suffer at least a mild form of depression. This can be dangerous to your physical health, let alone your mental and emotional health, so here is what you can do to help reduce those feelings.
Cultivate your sense of positivity
Having a positive mental attitude may be difficult, but it is worth persevering with. As humans, we are programmed to look at the negative; it’s a survival mechanism. At times of stress this needs to be managed. There are a number of ways that you can actively focus on the good things rather than the negative. Keep a gratitude list or journal, or a list of the things big and small that make you happy, calm, and at peace. Remember the times when it all went right, when you felt happy and you knew what you were doing. Speak these positive thoughts out loud. Acknowledge your accomplishments with the care work you do. Over time this habit will build and provide you with an inner strength.
Find a hobby
Even if you don’t have a lot of time, it’s important to try to squeeze in a hobby. It might be knitting, painting, running, bird watching… there are hundreds of activities to choose from. Whatever it is, allow yourself a little time each day to indulge. This will allow you to clear your mind and relax – and give your sense of self-worth a boost.
You can’t do it all. And neither should you be expected to. You need to take a break, even if it’s just once a week. Arrange for someone to sit with your loved one for a day so you can go out and enjoy yourself. It’s important that you do. You could go to a class, or even just hop on a train to somewhere new for the day. Explore, enjoy.
Find something to look forward to
This is a tough one to take, but for many carers it’s the truth; you’ll feel hopeless and inadequate. You’ll worry that you’re not doing enough, even though you’re burning yourself out with the effort and the stress.
The thing is, what you’re doing is amazing. Wonderful. The kindest thing someone can do for something else. You’re not inadequate. Here are some ways to remind yourself of that.
Remember what you achieve
You will achieve things every day. They may be small (you’ve finally replied to an email, you weeded the garden), or they could be huge (you got your loved one to eat, you booked a holiday). Look out for these things and be proud of the fact that you’ve done them.
Look forward to things
No matter what, always make sure there is something for you to look forward to. A shopping trip, seeing friends, even a weekend away. Make sure that you plan another event before the first one is done so that there is always something to head towards.
Know how to manage stress
When you don’t feel as though you have control over your situation, you will feel stressed, which can lead to ill health. The more stressed you are, the less able you are to help your loved one. So, stress needs to be reduced as much as possible for your health both in the short-term and the long-term.
Learn to relax
Easier said than done? Perhaps, but it’s important to try. There are many different methods. You could listen to music. Go to a yoga class. Learn mindfulness techniques. Get an adult colouring book. Breathe. Laugh.
You’ll know what causes you the most stress in your life. If you can look ahead and prevent that stress from happening, you’ll feel better about things. So, if you hate to go to the supermarket because you’ve run out of food, make sure you keep a checklist of what you have. When stocks get low, order an online shop in plenty of time.
Don’t be afraid to cancel
If the day is not working out well, or you’re feeling under the weather and you’re supposed to be going somewhere or doing something, don’t be afraid to cancel if attending is only going to make you feel worse.
The most important thing when it comes to caring for a loved one is that you feel well and happy. If you don’t, you can’t give them the care that they need. You need to put yourself first – and you should never feel guilty about that.