Four Strategies for Resolving the Advocacy / Anxiety Rift
If you’ve found yourself in the role of caregiving for a parent or grandparent, you know how stressful it can be. This stage of life is teeming with unknowns, questions about what to expect, challenging relationship dynamics, and trying to decode the mystery of medicalese. You’ve been conscripted into the role of the Advocate and now you find yourself caring for your elderly parent in your own home. You might bring caregivers in to reduce your caregiving stress. While having hands-on support is an enormous relief, advocacy comes with stress of its own.
Beginning caregiving services can help you in meeting your family’s needs. You expect physical challenges to be addressed. Depending on your parent or grandparent this might include mobility issues, feeding, and personal care. It is equally important to care for quality-of-life emotional realities. It matters that caregivers have an empathetic connection, respect for culture, and that dignity is a priority.
Sometimes things don’t go so smoothly. This can happen when caregivers are inattentive or unskilled, but sometimes it is nobody’s fault and the relationship just doesn’t click. Physical stress and emotional stress are linked. You know both physical and emotional care is massively important but it can be so anxiety-provoking to even think about speaking up. So, what do you do when services don’t meet your needs? Here are four strategies for balancing advocacy & anxiety:
Tips caring for aging parents:
1. Come up with a verbal anchor that allows for anxiety.
“Kindly carry through discomfort” can be an anchor. You experience caregiver anxiety because you care. Choose an expression to serve as a verbal anchor that your anxiety makes sense (be kind to it) and that you’ll carry it with you in order to do what’s important. You could use these words or another reminder to help free you up to move with anxiety.
2. Use quality-of-life language
People often feel anxious about advocacy because they’re conflict-averse and don’t want to upset the caregiver or team. While another person’s reaction is outside the limits of your control, you can present the information as an opportunity. Rather than the top-down directive of, “I need you to get off your phone,” framing it as a quality-of-life issue, “It has such a positive impact on mom’s mood when she has the opportunity to share her stories with you,” may appeal to your caregiver’s values. You might follow this up with, “Here’s what I’d like to see,” and give clear guidelines and boundaries.
3. Take an inventory of resources available / who’s in your corner
Create a list that you might think of as your “resource inventory” of who and what you can call on. From your caregiving team, this should include routine caregivers, the team’s supervisor, and the supervisor’s supervisor. Every state has a long-term care ombudsman program that provides oversight to caregiving agencies. You also need to list involved family members and friends. Include both hands-on caregivers and people who will be up for going out to dinner and having fun together. Learn about additional resources from a social worker or resource advisor at your state’s aging services division.
4. Check-in and time-out.
Feeling responsible for your parent or grandparent’s wellbeing is stressful. You might not always notice when you’re running on fumes. It’s a red flag that you’re so exhausted you’ve hit a wall, or your temper is gone and you’re silently fuming, or not-so-silently screaming, at the help you’ve enlisted. Think about what your yellow flags are. Yellows are what happens before you’re in the red. Make checking in with yourself part of your routine. Are you in the red, cautiously yellow, or good-to-go green? If you’re deep in yellow flags, it’s time for a break. Let yourself rest or return to your resource list & call your “going out to dinner” friend.
It would be dreamlike for your Advocate-self to never face conflict. It would be nice to go through this list, file it away, and never need to use it because the sailing is smooth and you’re already equipped. In reality, the world is full of human beings and because we are different things come up. Your caregivers don’t know how things look from behind your eyes, or from your family’s culture because they’re looking out from theirs.
If you find that you can’t shake the “always on” feeling or just need an objective professional to support you through these challenges, talking regularly with a mental health therapist who specializes in caregiver stress and anxiety may be a good fit for you.
Helen Dempsey-Henofer LCSW is a grief & anxiety expert providing individual therapy from her Charlottesville, VA office. She additionally offers online counseling across VA, NC, and SC. She provides secular, informal, evidence-based Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). To learn more about her practice or inquire about working together, visit helendempsey-henofer.com.