For people who suffer from chronic pain, the daily business of life can be daunting. Just getting out of bed or reaching up to open the kitchen cupboard can be excruciating. It can be exhausting to have a conversation or to simply walk across the room. The physical demands of caregiving are difficult enough, but the emotional strain of watching a loved one struggle can be painful and overwhelming. As important as it is to manage medications and see to daily comforts, caregivers should also be aware of managing any anger and anxiety they may feel as they care for their loved one.

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Anger & Anxiety: Finding the Source

While anxiety and anger can be related, they are distinct emotions. It’s important for caregivers to know that there are real and legitimate reasons for both. They can creep in for many reasons, and may be unexpected. When left unaddressed, these emotions can be dangerous both to the person in pain and the caregiver.

Anxiety can come from the constant worry for a love done, from feeling out of control or from a fear of the unknown. It can arise from specific events, such as the frustration of watching a loved one move maddeningly slowly, or from a sense of loss and unfairness as pain seems to rob both the caregiver and the person in pain of their previous lifestyle.

The first step to managing either emotion is zeroing in on specific causes. A caregiver can then make an effort to avoid stressful situations or at least begin to under-stand the triggers and put them in perspective.

Once the emotions are better understood, caregivers can take action to mitigate them. Simply getting some exercise and taking occasional breaks can help. Talking, prayer, meditation or journaling can often help sort and sooth confusing emotions. A more structured experience, such as talking to a professional, can help develop coping skills and bring comfort.

Exploring Solutions to Anger

It may sound simple and obvious, but one of the toughest challenges for caregivers can be to avoid lashing out. Putting themselves in the other’s shoes can help adjust perspective and emotion. Similarly, whenever possible, caregivers should remove themselves from situations that are causing anger. Often a short “time out” can help a caregiver view a situation with more distance and objectivity.

However, such short-term answers may not entirely solve the problem. Caregivers of those who are in chronic pain are faced every day with complicated and frustrating situations that do not necessarily lend themselves to quick fixes.

It is true that anger can be a motivator in positive ways by spurring a caregiver to rectify difficult or troubling situations. However, left unchecked and uncontrolled—or even worse, pent up—for too long, anger can be debilitating and dangerous, certainly to the caregiver and potentially to the caregiver’s loved one.

In such situations where a caregiver is experiencing constant or unfocused anger, consulting a mental health professional is strongly advised. Before the situation reaches that point, however, there are things a family caregiver can do to cope with the emotional stress, anger and anxiety when caring for someone in chronic pain.

Finding Solutions

As mentioned, coping does not have to be a solitary undertaking. Caregivers can seek out support groups, healthcare professionals or get assistance with the physical needs their loved one requires. There are abundant resources for caregivers. The key is not to let anxiety, anger or other emotions cut the caregiver off from help. Being open to new opportunities and being flexible are critical.

Look for local or online support groups, such as the Caregiver Action Network (CAN), or local or online resources such as the Resource Guide on page 62 of this issue to get started. Assistance is available for those who invest in finding it.

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How a Caregiver Can Help Manage Anger

*Understand that there are reasons that you feel angry.

*Recognize when you need to take a break.

*Try not to hide your feelings of anger. Telling people how you feel helps.

*Recognize when you feel anger and name the emotion.

*Explore the cause of your anger feelings.

*Find someone you can talk to about your feelings.

*Understand that there are reasons you feel upset.

*When you are angry, sometimes removing yourself from the immediate situation for a short time can be helpful.

*Avoid lashing out at others because of your emotions.

*Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes.

*Use the anger you are feeling to make positive changes.

*Talk with a counselor or a mental health professional when your feelings of anger persist and you continue to be angry with those around you.

Reducing Anxiety

*Try to identify what triggers your anxiety.

*List coping strategies that have helped in the past.

*Talk with others, such as a support group or online forum, about your anxiety.

*Continue to gather information about your loved one’s illness and its treatment. Understanding what is going on can help relieve anxiety.

*Engage in activities that you find pleasurable and distracting.

*Use relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing or guided imagery.

*Surround yourself with friends.

*Use prayer or other types of spiritual support, such as meditation.

*Talk with your health care provider about prescribing medicine to help reduce anxiety.

*Get a massage.

*Express your feelings and concerns to others.

*Limit your caffeine intake.

*Avoid alcohol.

*Exercise.

*Get help caring for your loved one so you can have some time to yourself.

*Ask your health care provider for a counseling referral if these tips are not helpful.

During the daily interactions between caregivers and people in chronic pain, flexibility and self-awareness are critical. There is no way to avoid anxiety and anger all of the time, but being aware and able to adapt can make coping with caregiving more manageable. {PP}

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This is a 3-part series, along with:

Caregiver’s Depression

Caregiving & Communication

View the Caregiver Toolbox series:

Practical Tips for Travel

Saving Energy

Best Resources

Surviving the Holidays