The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Guilt, Worry and Anger

These three negative emotions cause caregivers--and your loved ones--a lot of pain and stress. In recent blogs, Mary, George's caregiver, has been learning how to deal with negative emotions. But these three, guilt, worry and anger still trip her up...a lot.


Feeling guilt is how people try to control the past. Mary can't change that she was impatient with George, but she can at least, feel guilty it. Mary's brain accepts this as an immediate solution, but it doesn't accomplish anything and so this triggers more guilt. This adds stress, so that Mary will likely be even more impatient in the future. To deal with guilt,
  • As with any other negative feeling, recognize your feelings of guilt and put them into words. And then LET THEM GO. Consider guilt a toxic feeling that you don't want hanging around.
  • Look for the underlying feelings. Guilt is a "secondary feeling." That is, it is usually a response to other feelings like resentment or fear or feeling inadequate. Recognize these and put them into words too.
  • Be compassionate with yourself. You are human and you have a very stressful job. Give yourself the same consideration you'd give someone else in your position.
  • Align your future behavior with your values. While you can't change what has already happened, you can set yourself up to behave differently in the future. For instance, if you made a commitment to make weekly contact with your daughter but have been letting it slide, set up a special time and put it on your calendar.
  • Ask for help. A lot of caregiver guilt comes from feeling you should be able to do it all. You can't. Caregiving is not a single person job. Call a friend or relative to come "visit" with your loved one while you take some "me time." Hire help for a few hours a week, or more if you need it. This is money well spent.
  • Accept that taking care of yourself is "being a good caregiver." A loved one with a happy, healthy caregiver has less stress, and is happier and safer.

Mary used to worry a lot. That's how she tried to control a future that felt uncontrollable. Like guilt, worry is a temporary fix but adds stress because it doesn't actually accomplish anything. To deal with worry,
  • As with guilt, put feelings of worry into words, and then let them go.
  • Look the underlying feelings. Worry is another secondary feeling, often following feelings of fear and uncertainty. Turn these into words too.
  • Think about what you can do. Make a list things you can actually do to change a situation. Thinks like asking for help or going to a support group. Then follow through.
  • Once you've done what you can, let it go. If this is difficult, set a timer and allow yourself to worry of 5 minutes. Then move on.

This is a feeling that Mary often buries under guilt and worry. But it too, is a secondary feeling, which usually follows emotions like frustration, inadequacy and fear. When Mary can't do anything else about it, she can at least feel angry. As with the other feelings, feeling angry is a temporary fix that doesn't solve anything...and often makes matters worse. Unlike guilt and worry, both of which can be immobilizing, anger tends to move Mary into action, resulting in words or behaviors that she may regret later. Therefore, the first step for dealing with anger is to learn how to express it in constructive ways--or avoid expressing it.
  • Get enough rest and take care of your health. This is a big one. If you are rested and healthy, you will be better able to respond to the frustration of a balky loved one or an unhelpful doctor more rationally. You may feel the anger, but you won't have to express it.
  • Practice deep breathing. Taking three deep, cleansing breaths gives you some time to calm down and adds oxygen so that you can think clearly.
  • Self-talk. Have some soothing chants that you can use in a hurry: "It's okay." "Let it go." "He isn't doing this on purpose." "It's the disease, not my loved one."
  • Laugh. Step outside of the situation and see its absurdities and silliness.
  • Later, you can do your homework of putting angry feelings into words and looking for underlying feelings. This may make it easier to deal with future anger.
For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a physician's advice.

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