Staying Positive and Managing Mood as a Caregiver:  5 Important Steps to Take

Staying Positive and Managing Mood as a Caregiver: 5 Important Steps to Take

Taking on the role of being a caregiver for a loved one who’s undergone surgery can feel like second-nature. After all, being there for someone you love is natural. But, while on the surface it may seem like something you can handle just fine without much preparation, the truth is there is so much that goes into developing a healthy, sustainable caregiver-patient dynamic. Today, then, we’re breaking down 5 important steps to take to ensure you maintain your sense of self—and your sanity—as a caregiver.

1. Prepare for what’s to come.

If you’re going to be a patient’s go-to caregiver after surgery, it’s important you’re along for the ride before surgery as well. Attend pre-op appointments if you can (and if the patient is willing to have you there). Take notes, ask questions, and get a feel for what you’ll be leaned on for during the recovery period and how that will affect your everyday routine. Some things to ask include: 

  • What medications will I be responsible for administering? 
  • How much help will the patient need physically and with what tasks? 
  • How much help will the patient need mentally and emotionally? Should we assign a power of attorney and/or consider setting up therapy for after the procedure? 
  • What should I be aware of for the day-of? Are there items I should have at the hospital or waiting back at home? 
  • Walk me through what you think a regular day during the recovery period will look like. 
  • How long will the patient be unable to drive?
  • How long will the patient be unable to go to work? 
  • Are there resources you can share with us that will help us understand more about the patient-caregiver dynamic? 

2. Look for places to give the patient back their autonomy. 

If you’re a mom, a born host, or a natural caregiver, taking care of a loved one after surgery can feel like second nature. You might seamlessly slide into a routine of caring for the patient—which is great—but just make sure you’re not taking away their independence in areas where it’s not needed. If their doctor wants them to attempt to get up and walk around a few days after surgery, ask that they come to the kitchen to grab that glass of water from you, rather than walking it to them. 

It can be tempting to want to do everything for a loved one who’s in pain or recovering from surgery, but it’s important you also give them their space, allow them to physically rehab as much as is safely possible, and allow them to make decisions on their own when possible. If you overstep and perform too many tasks for them, you could actually hinder their ability to heal fast—so be mindful of where you’re needed and where you need the patient to work harder. The best part is this approach is a major win-win: it frees up time for you to take care of you (more on this in step 4 below!)—while helping the patient regain their independence in the process.

3. Be mindful about treating them with “kid gloves”.

When someone isn’t operating at 100% physically or mentally after surgery, it’s natural to want to revert to a parent-child dynamic, where you take care of the patient as if they were a young child. Remember, though—if the patient is an adult (or even a teenager), this can feel demeaning (and, if they’re struggling with the loss of independence after surgery, it can even cause them to lash out at you in frustration). Try your best to talk to them in the same manner you did before the procedure. Be open and honest about expected outcomes and progress—rather than trying to “shield” them from bad news or difficult decisions. 

4. Remember to take time for yourself.

When a loved one is hurting, we tend to put ourselves on the back burner in order to address their needs. While this is fine for the first few days you’re taking care of someone, it’s not sustainable on a long-term basis. The person you’re caring for wants you to have a life outside of them—in fact, they want nothing more than to not feel like a burden on you. When it’s safe to leave them unattended, do so. Take time for yourself—whether that’s going on a walk, working out, driving around and listening to your favorite album, treating yourself to some time at the spa, or simply sitting outside in the backyard with a cup of coffee. Regardless of how serious the patient’s condition is, there is always time—when they’re sleeping, when someone else is watching them, when they’re at physical therapy, etc.—to step away and focus on yourself.

5. Allow yourself to feel everything—without any of the guilt. 

We’ve all been in that feeling-bad cycle. You’re in a bad mood or upset about something—and then you get even more down on yourself for feeling bad or being upset…and the cycle goes on, and on, and on. We can be especially prone to a cycle like this when we’re acting as caregivers. You’re watching someone you care about in what is likely a terrible—or at least not an ideal—state, so you feel you have zero room to feel tired, agitated, angry, or sad. (Because, after all, look what they’re going through!). But the truth is we are all allowed our feelings—and no one’s issues are more important or pressing than anyone else’s. 

There will be days when you’re tired. There will be days when you’re feeling self-pity. There will be days where you feel resentment to the person you’re taking care of. The key is to not push these emotions away or guilt yourself for feeling them—but, rather, to allow yourself to experience them. Sitting in the discomfort of your emotions is the only way for them to pass. If you bottle them up out of guilt, they’ll linger beneath the surface until you actually deal with them. 

Want even more helpful surgery tips? Browse the rest of our blog for empowering pre-op information, helpful nutrition advice, and more!