The Emotions of Caregiving

By Barbara Small

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Family caregivers can experience a wide range of emotions in response to the demands of caregiving: anger, sadness, guilt, frustration and worry, as well as happiness and satisfaction. Finding a safe and appropriate outlet to express and manage these emotions is important, especially the ones that can drain your energy, such as anger and guilt. Left unexpressed, these emotions can lead to caregiver burnout and health problems.

Trust your emotions. Negative feelings can be a signal that the current situation is not working for you, or that your own needs are not being met. When you feel happy and energized, take note of the situation and use that information in the future when you need to lift your spirits.

Below are some ideas to help manage emotions that tend to drain your energy:

* Attend a caregiver support group at the Family Caregivers' Network (FCNS) or through one of the many disease-specific organizations, such as the Alzheimer's Resource Centre, MS Society or the BC Cancer Agency.

* Talk to a friend, a fellow caregiver, a co-worker, clergy or professional counsellor. Many community organizations, including FCNS provide telephone support as well.

* Ensure you make time for activities that energize you and that you enjoy, such as going for a walk on the beach, working or sitting in your garden, painting, playing with your pets, watching a funny film or listening to music.

* Examine the expectations you have for yourself, the person you are caring for and the current situation. Are your expectations realistic or are you setting yourself up for further frustration and guilt?

* When you feel angry or resentful, take a break and leave the situation, if possible. A quick walk or some deep breathing can help defuse your feelings.

* You may feel guilty when you experience anger or when you take time for yourself. Many caregivers often feel guilty about their actions. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, at the time, with what you know. Also, if you take some time to care for yourself, it will benefit the person you are caring for because you will feel more relaxed and focused, and less irritated.

Finally, remember that feelings are transient. They come and go continuously throughout the day. What you feel now is not what you might feel in another hour. Take a deep breath and examine what is motivating the emotion and what small change you could make to shift that feeling.

Join us in celebrating Family Caregivers Week 2009 and FCNS' 20th Anniversary while, at the same time, learning strategies for coping with the feelings of caregiving at our upcoming presentation: Family Caregiving: An Emotional Journey, Friday, May 8, 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Workshop registration includes a buffet lunch. Visit our website at for more information.


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