Caregiving not only displays a deep commitment to ensuring the physical and psychological needs of your loved ones are met, but it also involves making decisions that may place your needs on the back-burner. It is quite natural to develop a fear of the unknown, a fear of making a wrong decision, and a fear of losing someone you love.
Tips for Addressing your Fears
You may not know where to start to address your fears. These suggestions can help:
1. If you fear caregiving will take over your social life:
- Take small steps to maintain your social connections and have your own life outside of caregiving
- Do not allow caregiving to overtake your life
- Give yourself, your family, and your friends permission to have time where you do not talk about your caregiving situation, as this can help your mental health
2. If you fear your loved one may not be there for meaningful events:
- Make the time you have meaningful by doing special things together and living in the present moment. For example:
- You do not need an excuse to get dressed up and have a nice dinner catered
- You can hire a professional photographer to come to a nice dinner and capture intimate moments so everyone in attendance can simply live in the moment.
3. If you fear losing your Identity:
- It is important to make sure you make time for the things you love
- Have someone else care for your loved one once or twice a week so you have an opportunity to enjoy life outside your role as a caregiver.
Recognize 4 Common Myths About Grief
An important part of acknowledging your grief is recognizing these common myths:
- MYTH: The goal of grief work is to find closure
- REALITY: Most caregivers do not experience closure. Rather, they learn to cope with the feelings associated with loss as those feelings arise.
- MYTH: The emotions you experience represent stages of grief
- REALITY: You may experience emotions such as anger, laughter, distress, anxiety, emotional or social isolation, depression, guilt, fear, and regret, both while caring for and following the loss of someone you love; however, they do not represent the stages of grief, nor are they process oriented. This is all part of the grieving process.
- MYTH: You will succinctly move through five stages of grief, and your sadness will eventually be lifted.
- REALITY: There is no timeframe for the grieving process, as death is not something you can just get over. You will feel some measure of loss for the rest of your life.
- MYTH: Grief is a condition to be treated.
- REALITY: Grief is a normal response to losing someone you love and not a condition that needs to be treated.
Steps for coping with anticipatory grief
You may experience anticipatory grief because you fear losing your loved one who is not yet gone. It may begin when your loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic disease and may continue through the progression of your loved one’s illness. It is important to process anticipatory grief while balancing caregiving duties.
Tips for recalibrating:
1. Talk about how you are feeling: This can help improve your mental health.
- You might join an online support group so you can talk to people with shared experiences. Grief support groups can offer a support system of people with shared experience.
- You may also share your concerns with someone you trust, such as a close friend. Together you can try to identify a solution, and try not to dwell on what didn’t go right.
2. Give yourself permission to grieve: It is okay to feel sad from time-to- time. Give yourself permission to experience the full range of emotions associated with your sadness and process any bad things you have experienced.
3. Reach out for help: If your sadness lasts longer than six consecutive months, it is time to reach out to your doctor or therapist.
While anticipatory grief can provide you time to process your feelings, it will likely not negate how you experience grief following the loss of your loved one.
Dealing with the Phases of Recurrence of Grief
Recurrence of grief can occur every time your loved one has a change in their conditions. For example, if your loved one experiences a change in condition or receives a new diagnosis, seeing your loved one in pain may trigger feelings of sadness and disrupt family dynamics. Crisis, unity, and upheaval are important phases for family members caring for a loved one.
1. Process the Crisis: The diagnosis of a chronic illness often pushes families into crisis.
- Even the most cohesive family will have to work through their individual feelings so they can shift their energy to assist their loved one during a healthcare crisis.
- It will be vital to give each family member the space to process a loved one’s current condition.
- There may be one or two family members who can maintain their composure during emergency situations and who can take lead so other family members have time to process their feelings.
2. Unite on a Plan: Once the immediate crisis is addressed, families will usually unite to identify medical help or treatment for their love one.
- During the unity phase, it is vital to engage siblings, parents, or other family members so they can help with meeting a loved one's care needs.
- Caregivers who skip the step of engaging family members often find it challenging to get assistance later down the road.
- You do not want to experience this alone; you need the help of family and friends to avoid burn out.
3. Accept Upheaval: In the upheaval stage, your loved one's condition might deteriorate again, disrupting the current care plan.
- Family members will often revisit their feelings of grief. This may be a difficult time for all involved.
- Reaching out to the doctor, social worker, or case manager may be helpful as your family works through their feelings and develops a plan of care that reflects your love one’s current needs.
- Family members do not process their feelings in an organized or uniform fashion; grant one another some grace as you work through one of the more challenging experiences of your life.
Dealing with grief after caregiving
Caregiving for your loved one will likely be one of the more challenging yet rewarding experiences of your life.
1. Accept you may have mixed emotions: As a caregiver, you may have sacrificed your job, your leisure time, your sleep, and spending time with friends, etc. Now that you have the freedom to sleep in and the leisure time you have been longing for, you may have mixed feelings of anger, relief, and sadness. It's okay for this to feel disorienting.
2. Accept your guilt: You may also feel guilty for not being a perfect caregiver or rationalize how you could have done a better job as a caregiver. These feelings are normal, and it will take time to process the loss of your loved one.
3. Give yourself permission to grieve: How you process your emotions will differ from others. What matters most is that you give yourself permission to process your grief in a manner that works for you.
- TIP: If your sadness lasts six months or longer with a general disengagement from participation in normal, everyday life activities, burying your feelings, or generally feeling hopeless, you may be experiencing a form of complicated grief and will want to reach out to a doctor or therapist. Although grief is normal, we don't want it to take over our whole life or affect who we are.
Understand: What Is The Difference Between Fear And Anxiety?
- Fear is a reaction to specific and observable dangers in the environment. A common one is fear of death.
- NOTE: Phobias are a type of fear, however they describe more extreme and irrational fears and aversions
- Anxiety is an emotional response to an unknown threat that is typically future-looking. For example, many people suffered anxiety about how the pandemic would impact society overall.