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5 Ways to Keep Guilt from Stressing You Out

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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 instead.

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.

Last revised: May 16, 2013

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. September 5, 2019 at 3:54 pm | Posted by Elaine Hay

    I have my 91 year old mother living with my husband and I. She is physically able, but was diagnosed with mid level dementia a year ago. Her long term memory is very bad and short term memory is getting worse to the point I am repeating things I said ten minutes ago. So alot of patience is required. We have had her living with us for 6 years with maybe 2 visits to my sister's place for a couple of weeks during this time. My sister lives in another province on the east coast. My brother (who lives 30 miles away) comes to take her for breakfast once a month for 45 minutes. My brother and sister call her a couple of times a week. Guess they think they're doing their part. I am 69 years old and my husband is 71. He is caregiver (visits daily) for his 88 year old aunt who has no one else. We both have part time jobs to make ends meet and are exhausted both mentally and physically. On the surface, to others who have not had this experience, it would seem admirable and not so difficult. that is so far from the truth. We have absolutely no life together and no specific end in site when we will be free to live our own lives. I am resentful because I can't even have people to our home without my mother being present for everything and my mother has our guest room so I can't even have my grandson stay over. I am expected to be her full time companion and keep her busy with jobs so she can feel useful....except I have to do them with her. I am left with no time to do what I want to do. She tells me to just go about my life and not worry about her. When I do that for one day she comes to me and wonders what she has done wrong and why I'm staying away from her. I suggested she would do better in retirement living (memory care) where there would be other people to socialise with and things to do. I tried to explain to her that me being the only person she relates to and counts on, cannot work for me any longer. There needs to be alot more talked about in our society regarding aging and senior living plans. Many in my parents generation really didn't think ahead very far ahead or wonder what would happen if they needed help. This subject should be something for consideration for people in their mid forties or earlier. It is not fair to expect that your children will pick up responsibility for your end of life living circumstances and affairs concerning wills or living will issues. OR make us the "bad guys" who put you in a home. Each individual should takes responsibility for their own physical and mental health care. I would never ask my daughter to have me live with her, having had this experience. There are most certainly, worse tales than mine and I really think that we as a society need to address aging issues and present choices for people to consider for their future and plans that make growing old not so uncertain.

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    • September 19, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Posted by Elizabeth

      Elaine I really feel for you and I agree with so many of your points. You have really taken on alot with your Mother and it is not something to be taken lightly. I can't imagine having one of my parents living with us. I have always felt bad saying that but you are the perfect example of what a sacrifice it is. I know other cultures feel more of a duty to take care of their elders, but I just don't see it as a positive thing. My parents are 88 and 90 and live 5 minutes away from me in a seniors residence. I am very lucky that they were very proactive in their planning for retirement and how to live their last years. But I am still struggling sometimes with feeling like I don't do enough for them, and feel like I can't quite live my life fully. My husband and I are just in our mid fifties. Whenever there is a health issue, and there have been quite a few, it is very stressful, because they rely on me for so much. My Dad is very anxious and gets stressed which rubs off on me! I actually gave up my job during one of those times and felt like I just couldn't handle it all. This is not an uncommon problem for many of us. I think you should look into getting some support, maybe from the Dementia, or Alzheimer's Society. And if your mother can afford it perhaps you should look into an assisted living home for her. You are right, she could socialize and be with others her age. You have done a great thing by supporting her but it can't go on forever. I hope you can get some help and that things work out for you. It helps just telling someone else about it, and venting a bit, so even a forum like this can help. Take care!

      Reply

  2. July 1, 2019 at 12:30 pm | Posted by Tami Hill

    Reading the comments really helped me letting me know that I am not alone on how I feel sometimes. That it is a natural feeling that we are willing to deal with. My mom tries or do frustrate me at times and she realize that she is doing it. So I take deep breaths now before I respond to her. I am the youngest of my mother children she is 85 years old and I am 57 with a husband and grandchildren and work 3 days out of the week. I do get overwhelm sometimes because I still try to fit in my work outs to relieve some of the stress.

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  3. April 10, 2019 at 9:16 am | Posted by Dee

    Three months ago my mom came to live with me. My mom is 89 and I am 67 years old.I was the one chosen out of my three sisters to care for mom, only because she prefers my house. My sisters’ visits are often few and short. It’s not been a long time but I’m feeling overwhelmed. My mom has many illnesses that will never be healed just maintained. Her problem is she is stubborn and doesn’t do what she has to do ( take her meds, use her oxygen tank or use the vest to move the mucus in her lungs). I have to do most everything for her and it’s not like she can’t do for herself,she waits for me to do it (I give her her meds twice a day I cook I take her to her appointments. She has a standing appt. with her doctor every Monday). I do want to complain. I love my mom and I don’t want her to sense that I don’t want to do for her but I don’t fell I’m going to be able to not show my resentment. The guilt is real.I am the oldest of the sisters and I haven’t said anything to my sisters because I feel they on their own should know they need to do more. Thank you for allowing me to vent.

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  4. March 29, 2019 at 12:03 am | Posted by Jim K

    I am a caregiver of a 96 year old parent, and your article actually stressed me even more with comments such as the following:-Feeling guilt in not spending more time with elderly parent "especially when busy schedules and distance make visiting difficult".My Dad lives with me and my family, so distance isn't an issue. I'm retired, so a busy schedule isn't a big issue. The BIG issue is his neediness and inability to understand that I need my space and cannot spend every waking minute in his presence.You actually have a built in reason NOT to feel guilty if distance and busyness are your issues. However, I do not have a distance or a busyness problem, so my guilt is "especially" harder for you to understand?-"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."Your comments here are all guilt inducing talking points. Putting another person's needs before your own, you should point out, is a sign of insanity and will only wear you down and end badly. It is not a sign of love. It is a sign of the guilt that we're trying to eliminate from our lives. Likewise, giving back? The guilt some people feel when they do not "give back" is a terrible burden, and should not be normalized in your "matter of fact" fashion. Parents receive so much already from successfully raising their kids, nurturing them from helpless babies to successful adults. My children have NOTHING to give back to me when I am old. They have already given me so much. Likewise, I have nothing to give back to my parents.Quite simply, I am a caregiver of my Dad because I love him (although this should not make one feel as though they need to put the needs of their loved one above their own...already discussed), he does not want assisted living, and the situation has not gotten intolerable up to this point. Still, it is a heavy burden.- "I feel guilty for putting my loved one in a nursing home."So, I then must be a real bottom feeder jerk to think my dad might belong in an assisted living facility since he is not currently in need of nursing home care? You need to include assisted living in your discussion. Not doing so makes it appear to the guilt stricken that putting your loved one in anything short of nursing home care makes you an especially terrible child.Not a helpful article. At all. Actually made me feel much more guilty!

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  5. February 4, 2019 at 12:47 am | Posted by Lynne Bowden

    I needed to hear this so badly right now. Thank you!

    Reply

  6. May 25, 2018 at 11:31 am | Posted by Paul

    05/25/18 My mother of 84 yrs of age. Also suffers from Dementia I believe it was diagnosi since around the age of 70 . Since of then I've been her CAREGIVER .NO ,I'M DISABLED MYSELF. THE FEW FIRST YRS SHE WAS WALKING,COOKING,BATHING,WHAT WE ALL MOST DO EVERYDAY . HER DR. TOLD USE THAT IT WAS ONLY GOING TO PROGRESSE TO EVEN ALZIEMERS. SHE GETTING CLOSER . I'M 45 YRS OF AGE HAVE 2 SONS 1 GRANDDAUGHTER 2 SIBLINGS. YES THIS IS A REALLY SAD , HEART BREAKING, AND VERY STRESSFUL ESPECIALLY FOR BEING A MAN MY 2 SIS HELP BUT I LIVE WITH HER 23/7. IT'S A ROLLERCOASTER EACH DAY IS DIFFERNT THERE'S GOOD AND HARD DAYS. HAVE TO BE CALM AND HAVE PATIENCES. I WAS ALWAYS ON MY SIS CASES FOR NOT HELPING MORE THEN THEY SHOULD . UNTIL ONE DAY THEY TOOK HER FOR THE WEEKEND AS I WAS WALKING TO A FRIEND'S HOUSE ,I RUN INTO TWO LADIES SEATING BEHIND THIER TAILGATE OF THE TRUCK AT AN EMPTY PARKING LOT. HAD THINGS THEY WERE SALING MY EYES GOT ATTRACTED BY A CERAMIC ANGEL I ASKED HOW MUCH THEY BOTH SAID WHATEVER U WISH TO PAY. I ASKED IF THEY WERE SIS YES THEY SAID TOLD THEM U NO LONGER SEE SIBILINGS TOGETHER ANYMORE . MAKE THE STORY SHORT ONE OF THEM WENT THROUGH WHAT WE GO THROUGH SHE HAD 8 SIBILINGS . AS MY TEARS WERE RUNNING DOWN MY FACE . THE OTHER DIS TOLD ME IF I BELIEVE IN GOD?YES. THEN TOLD ME GOD CHOICE YOU CUZ HE NEW THAT U WOULD B THE BEST TO TAKE CARE OF HIS CHILD . JUST LIKE US WOULD U WANT THE BEST SITTER , DOCTOR,OR SCHOOL FOR UR CHILD OF COURSE. THAT ALSO GOD WELL BLESS ME LATER FOR DOING HIS WILL. I TOLD THEM I'M BLESSED ALREADY CUZ I STILL CONTINUE HAVING AND GAVE ME THE BEST MOTHER ANY ONE CAN HAVE . I NO WHAT WE FEEL .WE NEED TO TAKE EACH MIN THAT WE SPENT WITH THEM AND ENJOY IN AND IT WILL REGESTER AUTOMATIC INTO OUR MINDS AND HEARTS ONCE THEY R CALLED UPON TO WE WILL B IN PEACE CUZ THE WILL OF GOD WAS DONE TO THE FULLEST . WE R NOT ALOAN PEACE AND LOVE .

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  7. May 25, 2018 at 10:03 am | Posted by Paul

    I agree that its not easy taking care of our loved ones.

    Reply

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