You know those nagging feelings that tug at your soul and tell you that you should do something like—visit mom more often? That’s caregiver guilt. You are not alone.
Most caregivers relate to feelings of guilt, resentment and being overwhelmed. Caregiving is rewarding, yet still feels like you’re holding up a boulder when trying to live up to your own expectations and those of others.
Learning ways to manage caregiver guilt can make you feel like a load has been lifted off your shoulders. The better you feel, the better care you will be able to give to your loved one.
Guilt can be a positive or negative emotional experience
On the positive side, a little guilt can motivate you to have healthy social connections. "I forgot dad's birthday. I need to call him today," is a good use of guilt.
An article in Harvard Business Review shows that people in the workforce who are guilt-prone tend to get higher performance ratings and are viewed as better leaders.
Too much time and energy focused on guilt can have negative outcomes: feeling like a bad person, passing up joyful activities, or fueling a mistaken belief that you wronged someone when you didn’t.
What’s more, guilt-prone feelings reduce creativity, productivity and focus–according to an article in Psychology Today.
How do you know if you are struggling with caregiver guilt?
Caregiver guilt follows thoughts like:
I am not doing enough to help dad with his care.
I broke my promise to keep mom at home.
I shouldn’t get angry with my parents.
Helpful ways to let go of caregiver guilt
Banish negative self-talk Become aware of what you say to yourself. Replace negative self-talk with positive reinforcement when it pops up. Remind yourself that it is normal to feel guilty in this situation—you are only human. Practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
Practice an attitude of gratitude There are many wonderful scientific benefits to looking for the good in life: lower blood pressure; improve sleep; increase joy, compassion and forgiveness and reduce loneliness. Name one or more things that you are grateful for each day. Write them down in a journal. Silently repeat gratitude affirmations or speak them out loud.
Share with others Too often caregivers accept the myth that they should swallow their feelings. Letting others know what you are feeling is much better for everyone involved. Call up a friend who understands what you are going through to chat on the phone or meet up for tea, or join a caregiver support group. Find a group that fits with your unique situation.
Include music and movement The power of moving to your favorite song does wonder for your mind and body. Walking, going to the gym, dancing and doing yoga are good choices.
Laugh a lot They say laugh at the world and the world laughs with you. Laughter enhances your health by lowering stress, uplifting mood, easing pain and making it easier to deal with tough situations. Surround yourself with photos, quotes, screensavers and comics that make you laugh.
It's a relief to know that these feelings are a normal part of the caregiver's journey. Taking the time to add self-care helps to do away with caregiver guilt and boosts guilt-free living.
It's a practice you will need to revisit often. (Here's a tip: start with a small goal with a built-in reward so you can’t fail like taking five minutes to sing and dance to your favorite music.)
Do you struggle with caregiver guilt? What is one way that you take care of yourself?