A tired woman drinks a cup of coffee at a dining table.

Dealing with the emotions that come with caregiving

Millions of people care for loved ones. There can be no joy like it, no pain like it - and ultimately no love like it.

Almost 2 in 5 people say they don’t know where to find support when they become a caregiver – and that includes emotional support.1

It’s normal to feel a mixture of emotions when caregiving for another person. That’s because caring can take a lot out of you – both physically and mentally. But, for all its challenges, it’s important to remember that caring can be very rewarding.

As well as providing your loved one with the best possible care, you should make sure that you prioritize your own wellbeing and happiness. If you find that caregiving is becoming too challenging for your mood and mental health, it might be time to take a break.

Here, we highlight some of the emotions that caregivers experience, and provide tips and advice on how to cope.

Four common emotions of caregiving

1. Dealing with frustration

Perhaps you’re a busy parent, balancing care for your family with a newer responsibility caring for an elderly relative with dementia. Not only is it tricky to understand your family member’s new behavior, but it can be frustrating managing their forgetfulness from their condition.

Because you are closely tied to the person you’re caring for, it’s normal for your mood to also be affected by the person you’re taking care of. Sometimes, you may experience frustration when having to repeat the same things, particularly if they are forgetful.

Remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can, and that it’s normal to experience negative emotions. If you sometimes feel negative, try not to blame yourself. You´re both in a completely new situation where it´s natural to experience frustration. It helps to reflect on your feelings and try to look at the situation more objectively, think of what you could do to avoid the situations that cause negative reactions, then it is easier to respond in a calm and controlled way. Ask for help if you need it.

2. Coping with sadness

If you’re an elderly caregiver for your partner or someone close, you may experience feelings of sadness or grief for the things you can no longer do together. Similarly, if you are looking after someone with dementia, you may also feel a sadness at them having lost the memories you once shared together. Many emotions come to the surface while caregiving, and it’s easy to experience sadness or sympathy for the person you’re caring for. You might feel hopeless and even helpless at times, and it’s normal to want to cry every now and again.

As a caregiver, you may be at more risk of depression, so it’s important that you look after your own mental health as well as your loved ones. We recommend that you seek help and support from others – family members, friends, your local community or government social services.

3. Handling guilt

Guilt for caregivers takes many different forms. It could be guilt that you feel you could have done more to prevent your loved one from getting sick. Perhaps you feel guilt for feeling angry or impatient at the person you care for. Or maybe you feel guilty for enjoying time with friends.

At times like this, you’ll need to learn to forgive yourself. You’re only human. And even if you have a lot of energy, there’s only so much you can do on your own. Try to accept that things go wrong that are beyond your control, and give yourself permission to not be perfect. We all need time to ourselves, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your caregiving situation, it’s important to take time out so that you have the energy to continue to provide your relative with the best care. There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your own needs as much as those of your loved ones.

4. Overcoming embarrassment

As a caregiver for someone who needs a lot of assistance, there will be moments that you may experience embarrassment, for example when helping your relative with their hygiene or helping them to get dressed. Toilet habits are a personal matter, but there’s a lot you can do to make the situation easier for both parties.

They might feel awkward telling you when they need to go, or may not understand the signals from the bladder. Be observant for signs of needing to go to the toilet and assist if required. Encourage them in a good and dignified way, to create trust, and to strengthen the bond between you and help them relax.

If your loved one is able to move around on their own, you may only need to provide a little assistance. If they need more assistance, be sure to preserve their dignity and privacy when changing an absorbent product. Fortunately, TENA offer lots of advice for managing incontinence and intimate hygiene for someone else. Check out our hygiene guide.

Knowing when to ask for help

When caring for someone else, it’s important to know when to ask for help. If you’d like to give your loved one the best possible care, then try to find others to relieve you – people who can take over your responsibilities when you’re tired or unavailable. They could help you with grocery shopping or even just around the house with cleaning or getting to doctor’s appointments. Sharing your caregiving work with family and friends is a good way of preventing caring from becoming overwhelming.

If you’re able to do so, sourcing professional support can make a real difference. For example, consider hiring:

  • a nurse to assist you at home
  • a company that delivers meals to your home
  • a live-in companion to help you with tasks

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1) TENA global research on attitudes and awareness to family caregiving in the general population. July 2022 Poland, Canada, France, UK, USA. Each country interviewed over 1,000 men and women (18+).