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.
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.
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.
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.