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The Hidden Cost of Caregiving: Understanding the Emotional Toll of Caring for Aging Parents

tired woman on couch

When elderly parents lose the ability to care for themselves, it can be chaotic and demanding. You’re scrambling to figure out what they need and how to get it for them. You may spend enormous portions of the day helping them complete basic human functions. You think about money. How much it costs for medications, doctor visits, home modifications, etc?

During the chaos, it’s easy to lose sight of your own needs. And yet, to truly provide good care to your loved one, you also need to take care of yourself. In this article, we take a look at the emotional toll of caring for aging parents and what you can do to take care of yourself during this difficult time.

It’s Heartbreakingly Sad

The most obvious toll is emotional. You love your parents. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing this in the first place. And while you may feel good being able to make a difference in their lives, you also know it’s the end of an era. Your parent, who once took care of you, now needs to be taken care of.

Stay in touch with your feelings, and accept them as they come. Sadness is baked into the job, but most people report coming out of the experience feeling glad they provided care.

Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Are Built Into the Job

Taking care of an aging relative can also take a toll on your mental health. The effort of taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves can quickly become all-consuming. You may find yourself worrying around the clock that they need something, or that you aren’t doing enough, or that what you are doing isn’t the right thing, or—

Or, or, or, or?

Right. The demands of the job can quickly create emotional unbalance. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, consider seeking help. It’s okay to take your foot off the gas and look for ways to share the burden of responsibility with someone else.

You Might Feel Angry with Them

The ugly truth of providing care to your aging parent or relative is that you may develop feelings of resentment from time to time. The demands of caregiving are so intrusive and disruptive that they will inevitably change your life in fundamental ways.

If you’re like most people, you will want to experience these changes with an attitude of acceptance— even gratitude for the chance to take care of your parent the way they once took care of you.

It doesn’t always shake out that way.

That’s okay. Even nurses develop compassion fatigue over time. Part of being emotionally adjusted is recognizing your feelings, however shameful they might be to you, and processing them with an accepting mind. As the Disney film Frozen once put it—

 “You feel what you feel, and those feelings are real.”

You can’t change your emotional reactions on the inside, but you can manage your outward reactions. Naturally, you don’t want to make your parents feel any worse than they already do about the situation. Look for someone in your life who can serve as a sounding board for your frustrations. Bottling feelings up only allows them to grow.

Moodiness in Your Everyday Life

Grumpiness is one of the most common complaints of people taking care of aging parents. This is similar to the last point but differs in that your bad mood doesn’t need to be tied to a specific target or event.

Long-term caring for an aged family member can cause stress that shows up as general moodiness. This, in turn, is often associated with strained relationships and can even lead to tension with spouses and domestic partners.

In keeping with the Frozen theme, it is perfectly valid to feel grumpy. However, lashing out will only exacerbate your problems, leaving you feeling more isolated than before. Instead, try to turn your negative feelings into a dialogue.

If your support system is strong enough, you should be able to use your friends and family members as a sounding board. “I am sorry that I have been in a bad mood lately. I feel BLANK because BLANK.”

Best case scenario, your support system may be able to help you find solutions to get relief. Even short of that, it should feel good to get your negative feelings off your chest.

Never Forget Self-Care

You can’t take care of someone else for very long when you yourself are struggling. Keep that in mind as you dive deeper into the parental care process. This is very much a matter of what you decide to make it.

While you may feel selfish taking time off or even bringing in extra help, keep in mind that you won’t do your parents (or anyone else) much good if you are pulling into the station running on fumes at the end of every day.

Fortunately, many resources are available for people taking care of aged parents. This includes everything from online chat rooms to in-person support groups. Though the situation may feel difficult, it is far from rare. Approximately thirty percent of adults in the United States are taking care of aged relatives at any given moment. This is a dynamic as old as parenthood itself.

Of course, there are many additional resources, including care assistants, that may be able to make your life easier. If you think you might be interested in getting extra help, don’t put off doing research. Finding someone within your budget and insurance coverage can be a lengthy process.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to experience this process. You have to take the route that works for you and your family.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialists can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Sarah Daren has been a startup consultant in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-shot-of-a-woman-sleeping-8534057/

May Is Mental Health Month 2023

"Look Around, Look Within"

May is Mental Health Month, a time to spread public awareness and education about mental health disorders and reflect on the impact of mental illness on individuals and their families.

The theme of this year's Mental Health Month is to take some time to "Look Around, Look Within." The goal this May is to challenge yourself to examine your world and how it can affect your overall mental health – from your neighborhood to genetics, many factors come into play when it comes to mental health.

It is also a time to recognize and commit to changing the racial and economic inequities in our healthcare system, particularly with respect to mental health.

www.rtor.org and Laurel House are committed to the advancement of racial equity and social justice and to making mental health services accessible to all.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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