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Managing difficult emotions as a carer


Caring for someone can bring up a wide range of difficult emotions. You could feel grief for your previous life, or the life you had planned to have with the person you care for. You could feel upset seeing someone you love in pain. You could feel burnt out from being needed so much and having so little time to yourself. You could feel anxious about what is to come in the future. You could be worried about the financial implications of your family member needing care. Or you could feel angry at how unfair the situation feels, and be asking yourself “Why did this happen to us?”

Sometimes these emotions are even more confusing because they seem contradictory or irrational. For instance, carers report feeling resentful about how much caring they are doing, but also at the same time guilty that they aren’t doing more. Others report feeling angry at the person they look after for requiring care, even when they know it isn’t their fault.

The most important thing to remember is that it is completely normal to experience any or all of these emotions, and a whole host of others too. Caring is simply a tough thing to do, and it is understandable if you feel overwhelmed sometimes. It doesn’t make you a bad carer; in fact, it shows just how deeply you care.

Just because it is normal, however, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do to manage these emotions or that you should ignore them. Below are a range of options that might help. Even changing just one thing can often make you feel more able to manage.

Although it can sometimes seem like being a carer only brings up negative emotions, it can help to take time every day to think about the positive sides to your role too. Some positives that other carers have reported include:

  • Getting to spend more time with your friend or relative.
  • Allowing you to give back to someone who has cared for you previously like a parent or grandparent.
  • Having the opportunity to learn new skills or hone existing ones.
  • Making you feel good about yourself.
  • Knowing you are making a difference to someone else’s life, enabling them to live more comfortably and with more independence.

It can sometimes help to keep a list of these positives that you update regularly. Why not also note down any wins you achieve that day, however small they may seem, such as ticking something off your to do list or making the person you care for smile? Then, when you feel like you are struggling emotionally, try reading over these lists to remind yourself of the positives and that you have had good times as well as hard ones.

There are lots of different relaxation techniques available, including yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Everyone is different, so you could give a few of them a go and see what works for you. If you are new to these techniques, there are a wide range of books and courses available to help you get started.

Although it isn’t always easy, taking a break can make a huge difference to helping you manage difficult emotions. Take a look at our guide 'Taking breaks as a carer' for further guidance.

It can sometimes be difficult to talk about how you feel to friends and family members. But they would not want you to be suffering in silence. Even just acknowledging your feelings out loud to someone you trust can make a big difference. It can help you to feel less alone and also make it easier to process and deal with your emotions.

Once your friends and family realise you might need some extra support, they may even be able to offer some other solutions to help, such as taking on some of the care themselves to alleviate the burden on you a little.

You may worry that a friend or family member who is not a carer won’t understand what you are going through. Or they may also be emotionally involved in the situation, making it more difficult to speak to them.

However, there are lots of other carers out there facing the same situation as you who have likely felt all of these emotions too. Talking to other carers, either in person, by phone or online, can help you to realise that you are not alone in feeling this way. It could even be a good way to make new friends.

If you don’t always feel comfortable talking to other people about how you are feeling, or you want an option you can turn to anytime of the day or night, it can help to write about your emotions in a diary or journal. Try and write in it every day, even when you are feeling good. That way you can look back when you are finding it difficult and see that you don’t always feel that way and that it will pass.

A diary can also help if you do decide to seek further help, for example from a GP. It will allow you to give a more accurate picture of all the emotions you have been feeling, how strongly you have felt them and for how long.

If you are struggling to cope or feeling overwhelmed, hopeless or depressed, even if it is just some of the time, then it is a good idea to book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. It is important to get support from a medical professional before you get completely overwhelmed and reach a crisis point. Your GP can recommend the best sources of support for you, from medication to therapy.

Talking to someone who is trained to listen and be supportive can make a big difference to how you cope with your emotions, particularly if you are feeling anxious or depressed.

There are a wide range of different counselling and talking therapies available, from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Interpersonal Therapy. You can find out a little more about the different types and which you think might work best for you from the NHS.

You may be able to access some counselling for free on the NHS through talking to your GP, though exactly what is available differs depending on your area’s provision. Another way to access counselling could be through a carer’s assessment by your local authority. If you haven’t had one yet, it is a good idea to book one in. Take a look at our 'Carer's assessments' guide for further information.

If what is available is too limited, not the sort of therapy you are interested in, or has long waiting lists it might be worth looking into accessing therapy privately. Although it can seem quite expensive, if you are able to afford it then there is nothing more important to invest in than your own mental health.

Online Help and Advice

Visit our online support section where we have provided advice and guidance on a range of relevant topics to help you in your caring role.

Online support
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