Caregiving is not for the faint of heart, because of the extraordinary challenges that come with the job. The work brings out the best as well as the worst in a person. Physical exhaustion as part of caregiving is one thing, but the emotional drain that comes with it is entirely another. If caregivers don’t keep their emotions in check, they'll likely feel burned out and may carry mental health issues in the future.
If we were to use emojis to describe a caregiver's feelings in a day, we'd probably come up with expressions describing them as they interact with patients, their family, and colleagues at work. There are days the ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ face dominates, and the emotional roller coaster of caring for patients will take its toll, especially if its a loved one who needs care.
Here are some emotions that caregivers should keep in check:
1. CONFLICTING WANTS
There will be times you'll want to care for others, but the work is overwhelming. You feel like quitting, but know you need to stay.
Maybe you feel like giving up on the one patient who makes your day miserable, but this same patient has no one visiting them.
Or, you unfortunately have to say “no” to a patient whose joy is taking a walk, when the doctor's order is for them to be confined to bed.
We are often stuck between doing two things that both seem right, and that can be exhausting.
As a caregiver, perhaps all you really wanted was to finish your tasks, but something or someone made sure you don't, and that's when anger issues came up.
There are times you have patients who seem to annoy you on purpose, like spilling food and giving you something to clean up in addition to the dozen tasks still to be done with only an hour before the shift ends. You get frustrated and lose it, letting anger get the better of you.
Often, you’ll feel anxious about a patient's wellbeing or worry you’re neglecting your family's needs because of caregiving. Worrying is stressful and robs you of peace of mind.
When you don’t remember the last time you had a good night’s rest or you missed lunch because your patient was especially uncooperative that day, it’s also the day you snap at every little thing. You find it hard to be patient and cheerful.
Caregivers can feel down and out for a hundred different reasons. You wonder if good news will ever come. Now, every day looks grey, and you feel empty inside.
Many aspects of caregiving are a matter of expectation vs. reality. Sure, you were taught how to change incontinence pads while in training, but on the job, the sight and smell of stool, urine, and vomit can really be repulsive.
The gentlest and most affectionate of your patients just died, and no amount of “getting used to it” will save you the pain you feel when you hear news of their passing.
A patient fell and broke their hip because they attempted to go to the toilet unassisted. You think that maybe you should’ve taken your lunch a little later and you feel responsible. You feel miserable because you lost it, yelled at your patient, and stormed out of the room, and you know that you shouldn't have acted like that.
If you experience the above often, here’s what you can do to manage your emotions:
Acknowledge your feelings. It's not good to deny that you are affected. Emotions are indications that you are not stone-cold and indifferent—that you care.
Yes, you got angry, but you did not have to scream in frustration. While you acknowledge and sort out your feelings, contain behaviors that can potentially hurt others’ feelings or endanger their safety.
Go back and reflect on situations where you let your emotions get the better of you, and think of ways you could have acted or responded better. Use the lessons and build yourself a strategy to overcome.
Do something nice for yourself during breaks or after work. Enjoy your favorite muffin with your coffee, or get a massage after your shift. Being kind to yourself is the start of healing.
When your emotions are on overdrive, you need to talk to people you trust. If you feel yourself losing hope, talk to a therapist. You'll find that unloading your burdens by verbalizing them is very effective in clearing up your negative emotions.
Find some healthy entertainment for yourself and enjoy the company of others who take you to your happy place. Savor the moments and promise yourself that you'll do better moving forward.
REST AND FORGIVE
Adequate and proper rest and sleep are a must to keep your emotions in check. But, before you can do that, you also must be at peace with yourself and others. Forgive your patients and take it one day at a time. Do not harbor hurtful feelings. Nurture your spiritual health. And most of all, learn the lessons from your mistakes and forgive yourself.
You must take a moment to reset and renew your energy and composure. This is where respite can be a big help. Take a break from caregiving and use your time away to do all of the above.
Easier said than done! Managing your emotions is difficult, but it’s the only way to cope and grow as a person while caregiving. If you are already actively keeping your feelings in check, kudos to you and keep up the good work!
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