Repressing the emotions of caregiving has its consequences. Caregivers who repress their feelings say other areas of their lives have suffered, including personal time, time with family and friends, hobbies, marriage, relationships and career.
In a survey conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care network, 74 percent of caregivers who hide their feelings report fatigue and 53 percent report difficulty sleeping.
In addition, 37 percent say they have experienced depression, and 30 percent have experienced weight gain or loss.
Others have experienced back pain, high blood pressure and headaches.
Those caregivers who provide 20 or more hours a week care are more likely to experience negative emotions related to caregiving.
Those who hide or deny their emotions are more likely to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, angry, scared and depressed.
They are resentful toward out-of-town siblings who do not help, and guilty over losing patience with the person they are caring for.
Repercussions of caring for someone can be obvious, such as changes in health, or subtle, such as not taking a work promotion or dropping out of social circles.
The following suggestions could be helpful for family caregivers.
Look to others for support. The most common sources of support are family and friends.
Take breaks from caregiving. Turn to a support group or professional caregiving service to gain some respite to take care of your own needs.
Prayer and-or meditation. Of those in the survey, 60 percent used prayer or meditation as a coping mechanism.
Stay active. A 2011 study led by researchers at the National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan found that those who exercised just 15 minutes a day cut their risk of death by 14 percent and extended their life expectancy by three years compared to those who did no exercise.
Exercise has also been proven to increase brain activity and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to combat depression and reduce stress and a tactic that 39 percent in the survey employed.
Release your emotions. Crying is one way to release your emotions. Talking to someone you trust and revealing your true emotions – depression, anger, frustration and guilt – can be of great benefit, and it decreases your stress level.
To be the best caregiver you can be, you must take care of yourself first.
Using the example of flying, you must first put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others.
After all, if something happens to you, who will take care of your loved one?
Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
You’ll live longer and be better able to provide the care needed.
Rachel Carson is a Certified Senior Advisor and owner of Home Instead Senior Care serving the Lowcountry since 1997.