How to cope with caregiver anger?
“Anybody can become angry – that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Caregiving definitely makes us tougher and grow thicker skin. We constantly go through so many different and unexpected situations, balancing on an emotional roller coaster every single day. Over time, we get less upset about many things and control better our actions and reactions. Sometimes, we lash out when we feel angry, depleted, and controlless, but it’s not truly a relief. It often leaves us feeling worse than before. As caregiving is a constant learning experience, learning to manage negative feelings like caregiver anger and resentment is also part of the role.
Why is it important to control anger?
Part of the problem that caregivers run into is that they blame themselves for feeling angry. They think this is not something they should feel. For whatever reasons that you’re experiencing it, your feeling is valid. It means you’re dealing with a difficult situation. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty because of that. But, continuously stuffing your negative emotions or letting them run loose will not help the situation. It’s not good, neither for you nor for your care recipient.
Allowing yourself the space to get angry is a form of self-care. Chronic anger and resentment have been linked to various health problems, such as migraines, sleeping and eating disorders, digestive-tract disorders, high blood pressure, heart attacks and heart diseases. The long-term buildup of negative emotions can lead to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, isolation, and loneliness.
Acknowledging and addressing these burdening feelings is the first step in making positive changes. You can do a few things to control and adjust your reactions when you find yourself facing the trigger situations that may lead you towards undesired outbursts.
Recognize the cause.
Caregivers appear to be tough, and they need to be. But they are emotionally raw. Frequently, the fatigue that evolves from physical and emotional exhaustion leads to burnout and proneness to high frustration and anger. The tiniest thing can provoke the reaction. The first thing is to recognize when you feel anger building up and determine the concrete trigger in the given situation.
Learn to express your frustration.
Understanding how to adequately describe your anger is the next step to success. Simply naming this tricky emotion can bring some release. Blowing up or suppressing your feelings are both a step in the wrong direction. You will suffocate in the circling orbit. The strategy “ignore it, and it will just go away” doesn’t work. You need strategies that can help you safely express these emotions so they don’t get bottled up until they blow. Don’t run from it, don’t hide from it, don’t push it under the carpet, don’t save it for later. Air it out, verbalize it and release.
Learn healthy anger management – the assertive style.
This is a balanced way to express your anger. In short – think before you jump and react. Instead of feeling threatened by conflict and taking it personally, try to respond more assertively.
“The greatest remedy for anger is delay,” wisely said Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca centuries ago. Press the pause. Don’t run to conclusions before clarifying the situation. Maybe you overreacted or misunderstood something. Allow the possibility that you were mistaken. A constructive discussion usually can sort out any disagreement and bring a compromise. Even if it doesn’t turn a good way, you will be at peace knowing you tried your best. Sometimes the dialogue to clarify the problem is simply impossible. You maybe deal with a person incapable of social interaction or a situation beyond your control. You need to recognize when your reaction is pointless for the things you cannot influence.
When you feel the anger is mounting in you, you can take constructive steps and deal with your emotions on time before they grow into a negative outburst. Simple counting to ten or deep-breathing exercises can help you get quickly into a calmer state. Use a personal mantra reminder to recall why are you doing all that. Try to step back and overview the situation. Look for the concrete cause, do not overgeneralize, focus on the particular moment, and evaluate a practical solution and compromise. Get yourself back on the track to react assertively.
Go ahead – vent out.
Sometimes, all calmer strategies will not work. As a quick remedy, you can try physically freeing your anger while still maintaining control over your reactions. When you’re “having a moment,” you want to learn to walk away and take some time out. Feel free to excuse yourself and take a break. Go out, take a short walk. Scream into a pillow or punch it if it would make you feel better. Even a few minutes of venting out will be enough. It can be very therapeutic, and it won’t harm anyone. It’s a better way than an immediate burst reaction or projecting your anger on other people or objects. As a longer-term strategy, consider increasing the amount of your physical activity. It can be exercising or any housework. Physical activity is a proven way to reduce accumulated overall stress. It will help you relieve your anger, too. Try venting through a journal or anonymous blogging. Let all the bad words and the worst thoughts go out, give them a visual form and let them go. Paper can handle it, and you will feel better.
Caregiving is an incredibly tough job, and, understandably, you will face many challenges. You cannot control everything, and you will not win all the battles. When you first begin to have angry and resentful thoughts, you may start to question your deeds and fails, be angry at yourself and feel guilty and ashamed. This mix of emotions becomes toxic. Don’t punish yourself with a guilt trip for being frustrated and angry because of the difficulties you encounter while caregiving. We cannot always seamlessly balance all aspects of life and all commitments we have. You are only a human. (Although, you will develop some superpowers being a caregiver.) It’s good to learn from mistakes – if one was made. Things just happen sometimes, and there’s no one or nothing to blame. But, if you did make a mistake, learn from it and then try to forgive yourself. Scolding yourself over and over again serves no purpose other than to make you feel miserable. You first need to be at a good place with yourself so that you can move on and cope with other issues and situations. Do the best you can, but permit yourself to be imperfect in your caregiving. We are not all fit for this role, but we still manage somehow.
Don‘t blame. Don’t victimize.
When you’re feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, it is easy to start trying to find whom and what to blame. You may rightfully feel like a victim of circumstances, especially if caregiving was imposed on you. Blaming others and victimizing yourself will not lead anywhere if there is no constructive solution to help you with the situations that agitate you. It will only make you bitter and angrier. Sometimes it is not possible to discuss the situation and make a compromise with the person who causes your anger. In case the care recipients are cognitively impaired, understanding the circumstances and controlling their behavior can be beyond their abilities. If this is your caregiving situation and you are facing anger, you have to recognize if you are projecting your frustration on others or yourself and then deal with it justly.
Recognize you cannot change the past.
As a caregiver, you will probably find yourself pondering over any past or current issues. Maybe this, maybe that, and all the “what if” scenarios can only make you feel worse. Perhaps things should have been done differently. Nothing can change the past. It applies both to other people’s acts and yours. If you didn’t provide the care as good as you would have liked, wallowing in anger and guilt would not help that outline. Try to deal with what you have in your hands now.
It helps to be a little deaf.
As simple as that. Becoming selectively deaf can help us avoid letting some situations, actions and words hurt us. When you know that further discussion won’t have any effect, let it go in one ear and out the other. It’s a form of self-protection.
Identify a support system.
You need a support system that can help you deal with your frustrations and listen to you as you vent. Look for a few people in your life that can help you to get it all out and spill the guts whenever you need it. You can search for support groups in your local community. If you prefer anonymity, there are many online support groups you can join. You will see that you are not alone in your struggles and that many are going through the same as you. It gives a sense of comfort, and you can find a good piece of advice.
Find your way to relax.
Taking care of yourself is not selfish, and it is necessary. Especially if you are in a high-intensity care situation, you simply must find some time to rest, recharge and relax. It can be anything that will draw your attention from your daily duties. Try to occasionally organize some time out of your everyday setting, which doesn’t include doing errands, like a drink with a friend or a walk. Dedicate some time for whatever feels like self-care for you and for things you like to do – a hot bath-tub, hobby, books, films or series. You could try many relaxation tools, some of them straight-forward, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery. Give meditation a try. Don’t say you don’t have time for those fancy stuff – some of them take just a few minutes. Plenty of books and online courses can teach you relaxation techniques. Once you learn them, you can call upon them in any situation.
Use humor in your favor.
Humor can help you defuse rage in several ways. Mainly, it can help you get a more balanced perspective and face your problems more constructively. Anger is a profound emotion, but it’s often accompanied by ideas that, if examined, can make you laugh.
The point is not trying to avoid anger but learning how to express it in healthy ways that don’t imply negative consequences. Find what works best for you when you find yourself in a situation where you need to cope with your anger and resentment, both inward and outward. It can be a steep learning curve, but eventually, you will less likely take out your fury in the wrong places and at the wrong time. This control will influence your well-being and many other aspects of your life. It will help you be a great caregiver doing a beautiful and noble job and not a resentful caretaker. You owe it to yourself.