Caregiver burnout

When Life Is Out Of Your Control

Life As A Caregiver

Care-giving can create overwhelming stress and anxiety

My husband recently had knee replacement surgery. The surgery is a huge life changer. Not only for a future with less knee pain, but immediately after the surgery when suddenly the little things you took for granted, like getting dressed, getting in a car, or walking, you are no longer able to do on your own.

It was life changing for me too. I became the “coach,” which is how the hospital staff frame your role post surgery. I think using the term “coach” instead of “caregiver” is their attempt to put a positive spin on a difficult situation. If I am a coach, then I am not a nag when I am pushing my husband to do his physical therapy exercises at home when all he wants to do is rest.

Feeling Trapped And Anxious With No Control

Having my life, my schedule, my day-to-day activities driven by my husband’s needs made me feel very uncomfortable. I felt resentful, frustrated, overwhelmed with stress, and anxious because I had lost control of my life. These uncomfortable feelings lead to me feel guilt and shame for being so selfish.

I don’t want to mislead you into thinking I was a terrible caregiver. I wasn’t, I just had moments where all I wanted to do was be alone with my cup of coffee and computer or to take a walk, but had to help him shower, or exercise, or get in the car, or get into bed. I hadn’t had to do so much for someone else since I had young kids.

Reflection On Anxious Feelings With Kids & Puppies

I came to realize that my discomfort felt very familiar. In moments of clarity, I recalled being an overwhelmed mom with two young children who needed me to be there for them 24/7. No one ever tells you that being a parent or caregiver can make you feel so many intense negative emotions. Nor do you hear the repercussions of having those feelings—the shame and guilt for not being the happy, carefree mom/caregiver you thought you would be.

Although resources for postpartum depression are available—including blogs and websites for overworked parents, and support groups for caregivers—I think we need to normalize those negative feelings more often. Very few doctors or nurses who will tell you that might want to scream because all you want to do is be alone for a few minutes—or that those feelings are normal.

My Aha Moment: Lack Of Control Creates Anxiety

When I was raising my kids, I was so exhausted all the time. As a result, I didn’t realize that the feeling that my life was no longer my own was creating an overabundance of anxiety. I entered motherhood believing that my life with children would be bliss. Sometimes it was, but the moments when I was tired, overworked and overwhelmed were really hard for me. Eventually, those feelings passed. 

When the kids were older and able to do a lot for themselves, we got a puppy, and those same uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing feelings arose again. I felt trapped and no longer in control of my life. Once again, a being who depended on my being there to care for him. When raising my puppy, I figured out pretty quickly why I was having these feelings. The recognition that a lack of control = anxiety helped me feel less guilt about my negative feelings.

 My Outlook Can Create A New Perspective

This time around, with my husband’s knee rehab, I was able to see the frustration, resentment, and anxiety for what they were: normal feelings that arise when your life takes a turn that you were not expecting.

It’s amazing how quickly your uncomfortable feelings will dissipate when you give yourself permission to feel them.

I still felt guilty because I wasn’t the perfect caregiver 24/7, but those feelings were not as intense, and I did not feel the shame of, “I am a bad person because I resent giving up control over my life to take care of a loved one.”

Reducing The Stress

Exercise relieves stress and anxiety.

Exercise relieves stress and anxiety.

Parents, or caregivers, or coaches, whether permanent or temporary, can do some things to help relieve the stress.

  • Take care of yourself. If you aren’t sleeping, eating well and getting exercise you are only adding more stress to your life
  • Carve out some alone time. Maybe that means asking for help, or getting a sitter but having time to yourself is so important to clear your mind, and feel less resentment.
  • Remind yourself that we all have negative feelings. I’m guessing that even the Dalai Lama gets them from time to time. He’s just better at recognizing that thoughts and feelings come and go like waves on the ocean. The thing to remember is that feeling mad, frustrated, or resentful doesn’t make you a “bad person.” It makes you human.

Living In The Moment Takes Practice

During my recent experience as a caregiver/coach, I tried to take each day as it came, and to live in the moment, but I’m human, and this wasn’t always easy. What I found helpful was having some time to myself each day. I would take a walk, go to the gym, write or read. The exercise not only relived the anxiety, but it helped ground me. I could then come back more refreshed and ready for whatever was next.

Is someone you know going through similar experiences? I would be honored if you would share this with them.

Have you had moments when your life felt like it was out of your control? Please share your experiences below in the comments.

If you’re feeling like your life is out of control, and you would like help learning to stay in the moment please contact me.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling, offices in Arnold and Annapolis. 410-340-8469