You’ve spent the last several months to several years caring for your loved one. And as all things do, your time as a family caregiver has come to an end. For many reasons, this period is challenging. Whether you lost a loved one in your care or they no longer need you, you will experience a period of grief.
Grieving after the end of your time as a caregiver is incredibly normal, but is a uniquely challenging and emotional experience. In this article, we will look at how to navigate this time period — how to express your feelings, how to navigate those emotions, and how to start getting life back to normal.
1. Acknowledge and express your feelings
After caregiving ends, it's common to experience a range of emotions. It's important to acknowledge and give yourself permission to express these feelings. Suppressing them, in contrast, can lead to mental and physical health issues over time and can counterintuitively prolong your grief.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay to feel sad that your role as a caregiver has come to an end.
It’s also common to feel angry about the burdens you carried, the sacrifices you made, or the outcome. Simultaneously, you may feel grateful to have had the chance to care for someone you love and spend that extra time with them. If you lost the loved one in your life, you may even feel relief, or guilt over the feeling of relief. You may also feel confused about what comes next. This emotional rollercoaster is normal. But that doesn’t make it easy.
Acknowledging and expressing these emotions is an important step towards healing and moving forward. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist, journal, or find another outlet that feels comfortable for you. Remember, it's okay to feel a mix of emotions and it's okay to ask for help when you need it. This brings us to our next tip.
2. Reach out for help when you need it
The emotional burden you’re carrying is heavy. Here are some examples of resources available to help you navigate these feelings so you can start to heal:
Therapy. One great option is to reach out to a therapist who can provide professional guidance and support. They will have seen this before and can help you work through the complex feelings you’re experiencing post-caregiving and teach you helpful coping mechanisms. We recommend you try out a few therapists before committing to one.
Support groups. Joining a support group can connect you with others who are going through similar challenges and experiences. This will give you an opportunity to share your story and receive empathy and advice from others who can uniquely understand what you're going through.
Books. If you’re not one who seeks to talk out your problems, there are a lot of great books that can help as well. Check out our list of recommended reading for caregivers here.
Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength. Recognizing you need help and taking action to find it is commendable.
3. Find healthy ways to cope
Caregiving can be a very demanding and emotionally taxing task. When it finally ends, it is important to channel some of that energy into your own well-being. Here are some ideas for healthy ways to cope:
Physical exercise. One way to do this is by finding healthy ways to cope with the stress that may have accumulated. Physical activities like yoga or simply going for a walk can help your mind relax, boost your mood, and may help reduce your stress levels.
Nutrition. As a caregiver, you may have spent so much time caring for your loved one, that you may have let your own nutrition fall by the wayside. Take some time now to reflect and ensure you’re eating balanced meals, drinking enough water, and talking to your doctor about any supplements you should consider to get back on track.
Try meditation or deep breathing exercises. When grief gets overwhelming, it can feel difficult to breathe, let alone get up to exercise or cook a healthy meal. For those moments, a 5-minute meditation or deep breathing exercise can help you slow down your heart rate and feel more in control. Click here to learn how to meditate.
4. Connect with friends and family - they can remind you of what brings you joy
Connecting with friends and family after caregiving may feel daunting. It may feel like you’ve become shut off or isolated from them or the person you once were. But reaching out to friends and family can be a refreshing and rejuvenating experience.
Whether it is going out for coffee, scheduling a phone call, or planning a weekend getaway, taking time to reconnect with friends and family can help you rekindle old passions and re-prioritize your own well-being. Taking time each week to do one thing to connect with loved ones can be a surprisingly quick way to boost your mood.
5. Focus on self-care
When your time as a caregiver comes to an end, it's essential to focus on yourself and prioritize self-care. To do that, it’s important to take the time to do activities that bring you peace, joy, or feelings of relaxation. Whether that means reading a book, going for a walk, or spending time with loved ones.
Recognize that you’re losing a portion of your identity – the role of caregiver has shaped your recent life, so feeling multiple layers of grief is to be expected. That’s why it’s important to give yourself time to recover through patience, peace, and relaxation where possible.
The journey of caring for a loved one can be incredibly challenging and isolating. But you are not alone. If you need support of any kind, we have an article here that lists some of the Free Resources and Support available to Family Caregivers in Orange County, California.
Please reach out to us if you’re a caregiver in Orange County and share this with anyone who could benefit from these resources.
Further Reading: 4 Fantastic Books for Caregivers: Our Reading Recommendations
Anyone who has spent any amount of time caring for an elderly relative or friend knows that it can be both a challenging and rewarding experience. Caring for an elderly or ailing loved one can often be a 24/7 job, and it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. One way to make sure that you are staying healthy both mentally and physically is to make time for reading.
Here are our recommended books for caregivers.