Coping With Emotions

Coping With Caregiver Guilt and Negative Emotions

Caring for a loved one can induce negative feelings. While caregiver guilt is alarming, it's a perfectly normal reaction. If you find yourself succumbing to negativity, you can take simple steps to ease the tension.

As a caregiver, if you’ve ever thought, “I wish this person would die” or “I wish this cancer treatment wasn’t such a drain on our bank account,” you’re not alone. You’re not a mean person either! It’s normal to have caregiver guilt. Carol Bradley Bursack, author of the book “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” notes that caregivers of all types have “non-angelic thoughts” at times. If the caregiver guilt is getting you down, you can find ways to deal with it without sacrificing your role or your feelings.

Get Unexpected Help

When you’re caring for someone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you’re not getting the time you need for yourself. If getting an occasional paid caregiver isn’t in the budget, solicit help from family, friends, or church volunteers.

Friends and community members might be more willing to help if they know what you need. Start a list of all the things you need assistance with and share it with the generous people in your life. They can sign up for specific tasks, whether it’s yard work, picking up your kids, or cleaning your kitchen. Use the free time to do something you love or that moves your life forward.

Talk Back to Yourself

When you have a negative thought try to come back with a positive one. If you think, “this is never going to end,” counter that thought with “I know it’s tough right now, but we’re spending a lot of quality time together.” According to a study in the Journal of Personalized Medicine, “positive perception helps the caregivers overcome the negative aspects of the situation.” It’s useful to recognize that you’re having negative thoughts and to acknowledge that it’s normal. Put a whiteboard on your fridge so you can write down your optimistic musings.

Creative Time

One way to get away from the negative is to focus on something new. Try writing poetry for a few minutes at a time or learn something new by listening to podcasts. You can start and stop when needed and it’s something to keep you occupied during mundane tasks. Engage your loved one in a shared interest to give you both a welcomed distraction as well as something to talk about.

A new hobby may not be possible at the moment. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take ten minutes to do something that isn’t cancer-related. Just make sure it’s at least ten minutes of unproductive fun.

As always, you can reach out to a support group, therapist, or a friend who doesn’t know your loved one. Having someone to listen to you, who will acknowledge your caregiver guilt and thoughts without judgment, makes a big difference. You might find a caregiver support group at your cancer treatment center or online at the Association of Cancer Online Resources.

Regardless of what you do, don’t feel bad for having the negative thoughts. Accept that caregiving is a difficult role, one that’s tiring and not always appreciated. But following some of these tips might make it a more positive experience.

Those fighting cancer have to deal with high stress too. Counseling at your hospital is a safe space to work through your feelings.

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Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Deborah Abrams Kaplan