Shelly Johnson-choong, MSW
Strategies For Caregivers
A FOUNDATIONAL UNDERSTANDING
If you're a caregiver, you already know how the illness or aging of a loved one can shift the family dynamics. A spouse and/ or a child who is cargiving steps into a new role, changing the relationship that is now restructured around caregiving. This means that the old role of spouse or child becomes subservient to the role of caregiver. These changes can sometimes create conflict between the caregiver and their loved one. It can also cause a sense of loss, grief, frustration, and a host of other difficult emotions for the caregiver.
Below, are some tips to help caregivers navigate those difficult feelings.
ACKNOWLEDGE DIFFICULT EMOTIONS WITHOUT JUDGING THEM OR YOURSELF
Relationships are emotional experiences. It's in relationship with others that we experience our greatest joys and our deepest sorrow. Even in the best of times and within the best of relationships, difficult emotions will arise. For the caregiver, this can be especially true. If you're a caregiver, you may feel:
When these difficult emotions show up, we often judge them, and in the process, judge ourselves. We say or think things such as, "I shouldn't feel that way." (Guilt) Or, "I'm not patient with..." (I'm not good enough.) This judgment can make us feel worse and keep us stuck. Below are some strageties for overcoming self-judgment and approaching our emotions from a different angle.
1. Pay attention to the physical manifestations of your emotions. How do negative emotions show up in your body? Do you get a headache? Do you clench your teeth? Do your muscles get tight? Do you feel like crying? By recognizing these signs, we're better able to recognize what we're feeling and move onto step two.
2. Take a breather. If you can't take a breather in that moment, promise it to yourself and then keep that promise. When we take a breather, we're giving ourselves some grace and distance between ourselves and the event that triggered our difficult emotions.
A breather can look like:
Five minutes on the back deck.
Fifteen minutes playing the piano, listening to music or using an app, such as Calm.
And literally breathing.
3. Let your emotions inform you by getting curious about them. Ask yourself: What's creating this emotion?
Am I overwhelmed in this particular moment?
Is there a pattern I need to address?
Do I feel like I'm missing out on other important life events?
Do I hate this particular aspect of cargiving?
When we're able to acknowledge our emotional experience and then address it without judgment, we're able to take better care of ourselves and determine best how to work through both our emotion and what's causing it. This can help us take appropriate steps to feel better.
4. Talk to someone. Caregiving is hard. No matter how good you are at it or how loving the relationship, there will be difficult days, moments, and maybe even weeks. You will need support. This isn't a weakness. It's how we're wired. We are not meant to do difficult things alone. A shared burden is easier to carry. In your effort to talk with someone, you may want to consider:
Talking to a friend.
Talking to a ministering sister or brother.
Joining a caregiving group.
5. Sometimes, we need professional help. When we're immersed in the effort of caregiving, it can be difficult to see beyond our immediate circumstances or feelings. Consider seeing a therapist if:
You're feeling out of control.
Talking to others isn't helpful.
You're struggling with feeling numb, overwhelming guilt, depression, or anxiety.
If you're interested in learning more about my classes on caregiving, please contact me at email@example.com. If you live in Washington State, I'm available for mental health sessions for caregivers through telehealth. You can contact me here.
AARP Sundowner’s tips https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/health/info-2017/ways-to-manage-sundown-syndrome.html?CMP=KNC-DSO-Adobe-Google-Caregiving-SundownSyndrome-Caregiver&gclid=Cj0KCQiAyoeCBhCTARIsAOfpKxidX0OA_UvIePj8IWuqUcaCFxyw7T5O1-Kx7upzEyAThjDZsxuygf8aAkk6EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
AARP end of life conversations https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2020/end-of-life-talk-care-talk.html
US DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/topics/family-caregivers
They offer a lot of information on dementia and caregiving.
ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION NATIONAL ORGANIZATION https://www.alz.org/
You can go to your state assocation from this website.
FAMILY CAREGIVER ALLIANCE https://www.caregiver.org/
SELF COMPASSION https://self-compassion.org/
STATE AND LOCAL RESOURCES FOR WASHINGTON STATE AND KITSAP COUNTY
WASHINGTON STATE CHAPTER OF THE ALZHEIMER’S ASSOCIATION: https://www.alz.org/alzwa
WASHINGTON STATE CHAPTER OF EASTE SEALS https://www.easterseals.com/washington/our-programs/adult-services/adult-services.html (statewide)
KITSAP COUNTY AGING DEPARTMENT
www.agingkitsap.com (county wide)