Do Caregivers Feel Frustrated? Understanding the Causes and Risks of Negative Emotions

As a caregiver, it can be difficult to feel like you're doing everything right or that things just don't go as planned no matter how hard you try. Frustration can lead to stress, substance abuse, and a greater chance of losing your temper. Guilt is practically unavoidable when you're trying to “do it all”. What causes guilt is often doing or saying what you think is wrong, not doing what you consider sufficient, or not behaving in the “right” way, regardless of whether your perceptions are accurate or not. Caregiver guilt is an especially corrosive emotion because you punish yourself for imaginary, inevitable, or simply human faults.

Above all else, recognize that caregiver guilt is virtually unavoidable. Since your intentions are good, but your time, resources and abilities are limited, you will sometimes feel guilty, so try to feel comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of punishing yourself for it. Caregivers are often humiliated and annoyed by other people's imaginary slights, including siblings and adult children who don't do enough to help. Caregiver resentment is especially felt toward the person being cared for, when the caregiver's life seems to be hijacked by responsibility and beyond their own control. Risks of resentment include not having enough support or means to not pay attention, feelings of being ignored, abandoned, or criticized can turn into anger and depression. Know that resentment is a very natural and common response to providing long-term care, especially if your work life, marriage, health or outside activities are compromised as a result. Some people show their anger externally more than others, but hardly anyone ever gets angry.

We get angry for both direct reasons (a clumsy loved one, unfair criticism, too many misunderstandings in one day) and indirect (lack of sleep, frustration due to lack of control, accumulated disappointment).Chronic anger and hostility have been linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks and heart disease, digestive tract disorders, and headaches. Anger that builds up unexpressed can lead to depression or anxiety, while anger that bursts out can endanger relationships and even harm others. Controlling a caregiver's anger not only contributes to their well-being but also makes them less likely to vent their anger on their loved one. Instead of trying to avoid anger, learn to express it in a healthy way. Grief risks include “prolonged goodbyes” which can cause guilt and sadness if you mistakenly believe that it is not appropriate to mourn someone who is still alive. Grieving the loss of a loved one is also a risk factor for depression. The caregiver's resentment is primarily felt toward the recipient of care, especially if the caregiver was forced to perform this role.

Even the most compassionate caregivers experience frustration and anger because they are simply part of the experience of caring for someone. We prepare family caregivers to make better decisions, save time and money, and feel less alone (and less stressed) as they face the many challenges of providing care. However, all too often the rigors of caregiving combined with the erratic behaviors shown by older adults with dementia or other health problems can lead caregivers to feel angry and other so-called “negative emotions”.

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