Life-Shift Tips: Becoming A Caregiver

Many people come into my office with anxiety, stress, or depression about a big change in their lives. Much of the time the change can be a negative one like the loss of a relationship, a medical diagnosis, or a death of a loved one. But sometimes, the change can be a good one like going off to college, having a new baby, or taking on a new job opportunity. These kinds of life changes can feel like the Earth is shifting under foot and transforming the world as you know it. Life-shifts require mind-shifts — and therapy can be a great place to sort through feelings, adjust your perspective, and learn some really effective ways to cope. In this series of blog posts, I will address some of these big transitions and offer “life-shift tips” to help manage different situations.

Becoming a Caregiver

When a person faces a serious illness or a decline in functioning, it is difficult and devastating — not just for the person diagnosed, but for his or her family as well. For the person taking on the role of caregiver, it can be an enormous and tough adjustment. Daily living begins to change; the caregiver takes on responsibilities perhaps never anticipated and faces many types of stressors.

If you or someone you know are trying to cope with the stress of caregiving, here are 6 tips for managing the adjustment:

  • Feel your feelings – A lot of complex feelings come along with becoming a caregiver. Sadness that this is happening to your loved one and family. Grief that your loved one is losing their abilities. Anxiety about what is to come for your loved one and your life together. Anger that this is happening to your loved one and your family, or anger (rational or not) at your loved one for becoming ill. Resentment that your circumstances are changing and responsibilities are increasing. Guilt that the illness is happening to your loved one and not yourself. These are just some of the emotions that may show up for you as you come to terms with your loved one’s decline in health. Try not to judge your feelings as good or bad. They are all just part of being human. Let them pass through you. Talking with a friend, family member or therapist can help you process your feelings. Writing in a journal can be helpful too.
  • Make the most of the present – It is easy to fall into worry about the future, anticipating the decline of your loved one. And some planning for the future is certainly wise. However, it is crucial to continue to bring yourself back to the present, making the most of what you and your loved one can do in the here and now to enjoy the best quality of life possible together. What activities can you still enjoy together right now? How can you incorporate some humor or gratitude into each day?
  • Find ways to make life easier – Look to see how you can better manage the responsibilities that will fall on you so that you can reduce fatigue and increase patience and time spent on more enjoyable things — such as quality time together with your loved one and self-care activities. This might look like hiring help for tasks around the house (if it is within budget), signing up for grocery or medication delivery services, simplifying meal planning, etc.
  • Help: ask for it and accept it – When people ask what they can do (or even if they don’t), let them know how they can be helpful to you and your loved one. Maybe it’s running an errand, providing a ride to a doctor’s appointment, keeping your loved one company while you do some self-care, or just being a supportive listener. There is no shame in accepting help.
  • Join a support group – There is nothing like the power of connecting with others who are in similar circumstances as you. You would be surprised how many support groups exist for those who are caregivers and those who are diagnosed with chronic or terminal illnesses. Doctors’ offices, hospitals, and county services are great places to start your search. Look for online support groups/communities as well, especially when there are mobility and travel challenges.
  • Take care of yourself – You’ll be of no help to your loved one if you are feeling stretched thin and depleted. It’s like the flight attendant’s instructions to place the oxygen mask on yourself before placing it on your child. Set aside time to get your basic needs met (rest, nourishment, physical activity, social connection) in addition to engaging in restorative efforts like hobbies, entertainment, and outings. Do not feel guilty for taking care of yourself in addition to your loved one. Self-care is a necessity, not an indulgence.

If you’re struggling with a big change, therapy can help. Transitions can be difficult, but it is possible to move through them and get to the other side.

<Photo Credit: Danielle Dolson via Unsplash>


About the Author:

The information provided on this website is for informational and inspirational purposes only and does not constitute a therapeutic relationship. Gina Della Penna, LMHC is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Garden City NY. She specializes in treating adolescents, young adults, and adults struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, and adjustment issues. To find out more about working with Gina, call (516) 770-7485.

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