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5 Ways to Manage Caregiver Guilt

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Family caregivers carry a lot of weight on their shoulders. After all, they’re responsible for the well-being and care of a loved one. The caregiving journey ebbs and flows with memorable or fun days and challenging or stressful ones. Most of the time, family caregivers are just happy to make it through the day without an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. This kind of fatigue often leads to caregiver burnout which negatively impacts a caregiver’s health and can cause stress.
Do you know what else is a major contributing factor to a caregiver’s stress level? Guilt.
You know the feeling of wishing you had done or said something, but didn’t, or the reverse – something you wish you hadn’t done or said. Guilt is that nagging part of your conscience that says you’ve fallen short of a certain standard.
When a caregiver feels guilt, it can do one of two things:
Guilt can make caregivers feel badly and breed anxiety, stress or even depression.
Guilt can become motivation to improve.
Here are five common sources of caregiver guilt, along with tips for refocusing the guilt into positive energy. These tips can help reduce the strain caregivers feel and be a step in the right direction of self-care.
1. I feel guilty for not spending more time with my aging loved one.
When Mom begs you to stay longer or visit more often, it can feel like a real guilt trip. Busy schedules, work demands and travel make visiting difficult. And, knowing that your visits are the highlight of her otherwise lonely existence only adds to the stress and keeps you from making the most of the time you do have.
What to focus on instead:
Try to make the time you spend together as meaningful as possible. Check out these tips for how to get mealtime conversations going or for sharing memories. When you can’t be there, consider how companionship services could help. You won’t feel as guilty “abandoning” Mom if she has someone coming on a regular basis whose company she enjoys and who can provide conversation, facilitate activities, help around the house and provide transportation wherever she needs to go.
2. I feel guilty when I lose my patience.
Caregiving can try anyone’s patience at one point or another. Family caregivers of older adults with dementia who exhibit repetitive behaviors may find this is especially true.
What to focus on instead:
Patience typically wears thin when you’re worn out and have little support. If you feel like you’re reaching the end of your rope, use that as a warning sign that you need to take a break. It’s important to care for yourself and make sure you’re getting enough rest so you can be at your best for your loved one. Put your energy into finding time to recharge rather than dwelling on feelings of guilt.
3. I feel guilty when I take time to myself.
Putting another person’s needs before your own is a sign of love. You may feel it’s your duty to devote all of your time and energy to care for your parents the way they cared for you. This is your chance to give back and you don’t want to let your loved one down by putting your needs before theirs. But you can’t ignore the need to care for yourself. It’s self-defeating to feel badly about indulging in a little time to yourself.
What to focus on instead:
The only way to sustain the love and care you feel your parents deserves is to take good care of yourself as well. Remind yourself that you can be a better caregiver to your loved one when you get enough rest, eat healthy meals, and have a chance to attend to your own needs. These ”Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others” resources have tips on how to balance your loved one’s needs with your own.
4. I feel guilty for putting my loved one in a nursing home.
Maybe you think it’s not what Dad would have wanted, or you wonder if there is more you could’ve done to keep him at home. But there’s no use dwelling on the past, which you cannot change.
What to focus on instead:
If there’s a chance Dad may recover from his current illness that requires nursing help, start planning ahead to make the transition home possible. If that’s not feasible, do what you can to make his time at the nursing home as comfortable as possible. Visit as often as you can and make your visits meaningful. Bring photos and decorations to personalize the room and help make it feel more like home. Talk with the nursing staff to get regular updates and offer suggestions if you think something can be done differently to make your loved one more comfortable.
5. I feel guilty for getting angry or frustrated.
If you’re like most people, you may view emotions like anger or frustration as a sign of weakness. People tend to hide emotions they feel are negative. But they’re just as natural as emotions like joy and love. It can be both stressful and dangerous to your health to keep negative emotions buried inside.
What to focus on instead:
While it’s true that too much negativity can be toxic to those around you, it’s important that you have a safe outlet for those emotions. Vent to a friend, diffuse your anger through exercise, grab a pillow to punch or find a secluded place to have a good cry. You may also find some helpful tips in these emotions of caregiving resources to better manage the emotional ups and downs of caring for an aging loved one. These 5 tips to cope with caregiver anger may also help.
For more caregiver stress management and support, visit CaregiverStress.com or follow the facebook page, Caregiver Stress Relief to engage with other family caregivers.
Author: Lakelyn Hogan
Lakelyn Hogan is Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate for Home Instead Senior Care. Lakelyn has been with Home Instead for five years, starting in the local franchise working one-on-one with seniors and caregivers. Now, her role at the Global Headquarters is to educate professionals, families and communities on Home Instead’s services and the issues older adults face. In partnership with the American Society on Aging, Lakelyn facilitates a monthly webinar series for professionals in the aging field. She also hosts monthly family caregiver live chats with Alzheimer’s and dementia experts from across the country.