Caregiving coach, founder of The Care Company
Stuffing Your Feelings: An Unhealthy Caregiver Coping Mechanism
Are you someone who cleverly "stuffs your feelings?" It's more common than you might think. We get media messages every day that tell us that we're supposed to always be happy, even perky – and if you aren't – then there must be something wrong with you. Not only is this not true, but it drives me crazy! Our feelings are the very thing that separate us from all other species, but we're told not to feel them, let alone experience them. When we ignore our feelings – particularly people who are in stressful situations like caregivers – eventually our bodies scream at us.
Many of us have been taught to stuff our feelings—to ignore them, to just "buck up." When you do this, especially if you are in a traditional caregiving role, you are in trouble. We need to embrace our negative feelings and I encourage you to do the same. They show up for a reason. They are yelling at you because you've ignored them. Honor your negative feelings just like you honor moments of joy. Sadness, anger, resentment, frustration, and even depression are all part and parcel of life and especially the caregiving experience.
Creative ways to let go of the negative emotions
These might sound ridiculous, but you will feel better afterward.
- Sit in your car and scream at the top of your lungs with windows closed. Just scream.
- Go for a run or take a kickboxing class. This helps release the tension.
- Go to the beach and kick sand or pound the water.
- Strike a pillow with a foam bat.
You get where I'm going here, right? There is a physical activity involved with letting go of negativity. You don't want to yell at someone. You don't want to take this out on your loved one. You don't want to take it out when you're driving. And you certainly don't want your negative feelings to eat away at you. Find a way (that works for you) to manage your frustration, anger, resentment, and even sadness. When you begin paying attention to what you're feeling, you'll also begin to see what triggers you. Just experiment and go with it, because once you start doing this, the negative feelings will begin to fade and your life will become more balanced. If you ignore them, they will continue to surface and wreak havoc with your well-being.
Try this exercise:
Each morning when you wake up, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? If it's joy—beautiful! Enjoy it. If it's depression or anger, give yourself a hug—a big hug, and ask for support. Allow yourself to feel the emotion for a day. Unless you are in real emotional trouble, chances are that these feelings will begin to dissipate. However, if you continue to feel angry and nothing really helps you, please seek a medical opinion. Honoring your feelings and not feeling guilty about them is all part of the holistic approach I use when I'm coaching caregivers. I encourage you to listen to your soul and honor the feelings that show up for you.