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Coping with Caregiver Guilt and Stress

5 Tips to Cope with Caregiver Guilt and Stress

Family caregivers often tell us that while all those around them are calling them “heroes” they feel like anything but heroes. They often express feelings of guilt that they are not able to cope with the pressures of caregiving. They may feel guilty about the anger they feel towards their loved one. They may also feel guilty about a decision to transition a loved one into a care environment. This leaves them feeling inadequate in their roles, no matter how much praise is heaped upon them.

First, it is important to know that caregiver guilt and the stress surrounding it is normal. Part of being human is to second guess our own actions, feelings, and motives for everything we do. And ironically, we are far more likely to let someone else off the hook than ourselves.

Just because caregiver guilt and stress is normal doesn’t mean you need to put up with it. Here are some things you can do to help manage caregiver guilt and the stress that comes along with it:

  1. Adjust your expectations. As is often said, don’t compare your worst moments to someone else’s “highlight reel”. No caregiver is perfect. Instead of beating yourself up over what you haven’t done, try focusing on the things you have done for your loved one. Start by catching yourself when you find yourself setting an unrealistic expectation. Then try to replace it with a more modest one. It isn’t always easy to do but, with practice and patience you’ll get better at it.  
  2. Develop positive coping methods. Focus on every positive moment, no matter how small. Try to turn a negative thought into a positive one. One way to do this is to engage is positive “self-talk”, a way of creating an internal dialog in stressful moments to put things in a better perspective. You may take a breath and say out loud, “Well this is tough, but I am doing the best I can. I don’t have to be perfect.”
  3. Take care of your physical health. Chances are you’ve put off your check-ups and other healthcare needs and appointments. Now you need them more than ever. Make sure you are eating well, exercising, and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night. Your physical health plays a big part in developing and maintaining a healthy outlook.
  4. Reach out for support. This starts at home. Surround yourself with friends and family members who are supportive and positive and limit your interactions with those who are not. This is also a good time to seek professional support. If possible, try to find a therapist with training in dementia. Joining a dementia support group will put you among other family caregivers with similar challenges in a supportive environment.
  5. Seek objective care advice. Often caregiver guilt comes from family or friends whose advice may be well intended, but lack understanding of the magnitude of the issues you face every day. They are not qualified to assess the mental and physical condition of your loved one or you. That is why it is important to seek advice from your loved one’s physician and other professionals who are trained in dementia care and who understand, firsthand, the challenges you face and the declining health journey ahead for your loved one.

Caregivers play a very special role in the wellbeing of a family member with dementia. It is a difficult role, however, and a journey that is hard for anyone to understand who has not been a caregiver themself. If you are a family caregiver stressed out by feelings of guilt, now is the time to stop, take a deep breath, and begin to take care of yourself.

We invite you to reach out to any of our Anthem Memory Care communities for information, insights, resources, and reassurance. We are always here for you!