There are amazing benefits to supporting your loved one in their choice to age in place; however it’s important to recognize that going through this stage of life with your loved one may lead to emotional stress for you. There will certainly be joyous moments like holding your Mom’s hand while reminiscing about the good old days or taking Dad out for a stroll and watching his face light up as he greets neighbors. But, there will also be times when you may be overwhelmed with negative feelings — resentment, fear, frustration, sadness, anger, or grief.
What is emotional stress?
Stress, in general, is your body’s response to external pressures or situations. When your body encounters such a situation, it floods itself with hormones that are meant to help you deal with the moment. From physical reactions, like quickened heart rate, to emotional reactions, like fear and anger, this automatic response is designed to push your body so that it can stay safe and protect itself from the stressful situation. After the situation goes away, so too should the hormones and all of the extra physical, behavioral and emotional responses that were created.
Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in prolonged stressful situations, such as when we are caring for a loved one who is aging. When this happens, the hormones may never have a chance to subside, and this can lead to health problems, such as muscle tension, overuse of drugs and alcohol, headaches, heart issues, sleep trouble and more. Plus, emotional stress can impact your relationships and well-being, making you irritable, restless, anxious, worried or depressed.
So, it’s really important to reduce emotional stress as you help your loved ones who are aging in place.
Yes, it’s normal to feel this way.
First, it is important to understand that the feelings you are having are normal. They are not disrespectful. Having these feelings does not make you an unkind or bad person. These feelings do not mean that you don’t care enough about your loved one.
These feelings simply mean that the situation of supporting a loved one who is aging in place is new, uncertain and ripe with change. Your routines, priorities and goals may have to change for a while, so you may have very real feelings of personal loss or disappointment. On top of this, the fact that your loved one is aging at all puts stress on you: there is a constant reminder that the person who you care about will one day pass away which is sad. There is fear involved as you question whether you’re doing the right things, making the right choices, and keeping your loved one safe.
All of these are stressful. Stressful and normal.
Keep emotional stress under control
So, the first thing you can do is be kind to yourself. Accept that what you feel is natural. But, beyond accepting your feelings, there are some things you can actively do to help reduce emotional stress during this time. Consider:
- Control or no control? Constantly check in with yourself to question what you can control and what you can’t. If you can’t control it, let it go. Don’t take on extra stress if there’s nothing you can do about it.
- Say no. By supporting a loved one who is aging in place, you are saying “yes” to an important commitment. Keep that in mind, because you can’t do everything at once. You’ll coach next year’s team, bake for school next year or catch the next promotion. This is OK.
- Meditate. It gives all of the chattering and chaos in your mind a break and helps to reduce anxious feelings.
- Communicate. Build a relationship with your Connecticut home care team. They are happy to answer your questions and help reduce your worry. And, don’t be afraid to talk with others in your life about what’s happening too.
- Journal. Even if you recognize that your negative feelings are normal, it can be a challenge to express them. Start writing in a journal to release them. It’s also a way to remember the good parts of helping a loved one age in place.
- Take breaks. Remember that you are a support to your loved one, but this isn’t the entirety of your life. Find time to go out with friends or take a vacation once in a while.
- Exercise. Go for a run or hit the gym. The feel-good hormones will…well, feel good.
- Nurture self-care routines. It’s tempting to try gaining another five minutes by not fixing your hair or to skip your nail appointment because there’s no time. Don’t give in to that temptation. It’s important that you continue to feel good about yourself so that you can better cope with the stresses you’re encountering.
Your loved one who is aging in place will need your support and care during this stage of life. And, much of the time, you will feel good about your ability to provide this. But, there may be times when the emotional toll creeps up on you, so recognize that this is happening, use the strategies above to release some of the negative feelings, and remember that you’re doing the very best you can.