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5 Ways to Keep Guilt from Stressing You Out


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May 16, 2013

How often do you stress over something you should have done but didn’t, or the reverse—something you wish you hadn’t said or done? Guilt is that nagging part of your conscience that says you have fallen short of a certain standard you want to live up to.

A feeling of guilt can do one of two things for you. If you let it, guilt can make you feel bad about yourself and breed anxiety, stress or even depression. Or, you can choose to view guilt as a helpful motivator to improve. Below are five common sources of guilt for many caregivers, along with tips for where to focus your thoughts and energy to help eliminate feelings of guilt and take positive actions that can lead to reduced stress.

  1. I feel guilty for not spending more time with my aging loved one.
    When Mom begs you to stay longer or to come visit more often, it can feel like a real guilt trip, especially when busy schedules and distance make visiting difficult, and when you know your visits are the highlight of her otherwise lonely existence. Yet trying to satisfy all the demands of work, family and everything else will only stress you out and keep you from making the most of the time you do have.

    What to focus on instead:
    Try to make the time you do spend together as meaningful as possible. Check out these tips for how to get mealtime conversations going or for sharing memories with your loved one. For the times you can’t be there, consider how companionship services could help. You won’t feel as guilty "abandoning" Mom if she has someone coming on a regular basis whose company she enjoys and who can provide conversation, facilitate activities, help around the house and provide transportation wherever she needs to go.

  2. I feel guilty when I lose my patience.
    It’s pretty much a given that an aging parent will try your patience at one point or another. Family caregivers of an aging loved one with dementia who exhibits repetitive behaviors may find this is especially true. But there are more productive ways to handle impatience than to feel guilty about it.

    What to focus on instead:
    Patience typically wears thin when you’re worn out and exhausted. If you feel like you’re reaching the end of your rope, use that as a warning sign that you need to take a break. It’s important to care for yourself and make sure you’re getting enough rest so you can be at your best for your loved one. Put your energy into finding time for a break rather than dwelling on feelings of guilt. (See number 3.)

  3. I feel guilty when I take time to myself.
    Putting another person’s needs before your own is a sign of love. You may feel it’s your duty to devote all of your time and energy to care for your parents the way they cared for you as a child. This is your chance to give back and you don’t want to feel selfish or let your loved one down by putting your needs before theirs. But you can’t ignore your own needs forever and it’s self-defeating to feel bad about indulging a little in yourself.

    What to focus on instead:
    The only way to sustain the love and care you feel your loved one deserves is to take good care of yourself as well. Remind yourself that you can be a better caregiver to your loved one when you get enough rest, eat healthy meals, and have a chance to attend to your own needs. Take a look at these "Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others" resources for tips on how to balance your loved one’s needs with your own.

  4. I feel guilty for putting my loved one in a nursing home.
    Maybe you think it’s not what Dad would have wanted, or you wonder if there is more you could’ve done to keep him at home. But there’s no use dwelling on the past, which you cannot change.

    What to focus on instead:
    If there’s a chance Dad may recover from his current illness that renders nursing help necessary, start planning ahead to make the transition home possible.

    If it’s not feasible to move your loved one out of the nursing home, do what you can to make his time there as comfortable as possible. Visit as often as you can and make your visits meaningful (see number 3). Bring photos and decorations to personalize the room and help make it feel more like home. Talk with the nursing staff to get regular updates and make suggestions if you think something can be done differently to make your loved one more comfortable.

  5. I feel guilty for getting angry or frustrated.
    If you’re like most people, you may view emotions like anger or frustration as a sign of weakness. People tend to hide emotions they feel are negative. But they’re just as natural as emotions like joy and love, and you have a right to feel how you feel. It can be both stressful and dangerous to your health to keep negative emotions buried inside.

    What to focus on instead:
    While it’s true that too much negativity can be toxic to those around you, it’s important that you have a safe outlet for those emotions. Vent to a friend, diffuse your anger through exercise, grab a pillow to punch or find a secluded place to have a good cry. You may also find some helpful tips in these emotions of caregiving resources to better manage the emotional ups and downs of caring for an aging loved one.

If you identified with any of these sources of caregiver guilt, you may relate to Cat Kohler’s stressful guilt-driven experience she shared in a Caregiver Stress Blog post, "A Snapshot of Inconvenience." You may also relate to this caregiver who wrote to Dr. Amy for advice dealing with guilt after her mother passed away.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Posted by Donna Harmony-Jones

    Thank you. A post full of content of tremendous value. Sharing with friends and family members and on my business page.


  2. February 18, 2016 at 8:02 pm | Posted by david williams

    I tended to my wife who had terminal cancer.she was the love of my life.i watched her deteriorate before my eyes.i always told her I loved her.she had a mastectomy. She didn't feel like a woman but I told her she was more of a woman than many other women. I prepared myself for the end.i grieved along the way but it still hurt when she stopped heart sank as i kissed her good bye. I cried and went home to tell my son that mommy was with Jesus now.


  3. June 30, 2013 at 12:17 am | Posted by Ellen Uzarek

    When My Mom passed away I didn,t get home in time and felt guilty for so long,thinking if I had only got there sooner maybe she would have lived,It took me yrs to realize that it was not my fault,it was just meant to be....but coming to terms with that is tough.


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