The journey of caregiving may often have a turbulent and emotional start, particularly when a loved one is unexpectedly diagnosed with a mental health condition. The changes in your loved one’s mood and behaviour may also negatively affect their ability to participate in everyday activities. Many caregivers are often caught off guard by the unforeseen circumstances and become overwhelmed when they struggle to juggle the multiple roles they play in life. These challenges may be further complicated by the long-time commitment of having to care for a loved one who is recovering from a mental health condition.

In a series of interviews with caregivers and experts from Caregivers Alliance Limited, these individuals offer the following tips to fellow caregivers to help them prepare for their role and the caregiving journey ahead.

1. Emotional regulation

The first few months upon learning of your loved one’s diagnosis may be the most emotionally draining, as both caregiver and their loved ones navigate through the new challenges presented.  In addition, caregivers may experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, especially during moments when their loved ones are feeling distressed. During these moments, it is important for caregivers to be mindful of their own emotional state.

How can I learn to manage my emotions?
  • Shifting attention away from the source of negative emotions
  • Acknowledge negative emotions and talk to your loved ones about your feelings instead of keeping them in
  • Identify and reduce triggers
  • Speak to a mental health professional

2. Positive shifts in mindsets/Re-wiring negative thought pathways

More often than not, the challenges we face with our loved ones will bring about feelings of anxiety or fear. At times, we may even feel frustrated with our loved one. It is important that you are equipped with the ability to rethink the challenging situation to reduce negative emotions. Reframing emotional situations may be helpful in the long run, and has proven to promote better well-being among caregivers*. Moreover, trying to practice incorporating a positive shift in your mindset will also change your response to your loved one. This is especially crucial during emotionally intense situations. 

Find out more about how you can practice re-wiring negative thought pathways here.  

*[1]  Thurin, M., 2015. Does Positive Reframing Lead to Better Coping Styles: Examining the effects of two different writing prompts on self-reported stress of caregivers of people with Dementia.. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 21 February 2022].  

3. Managing expectations

The demands of caregiving are not only limited to tending to the needs of your loved one, it also involves juggling the needs of other family members, work and other responsibilities. A sudden diagnosis of your loved one may cause you to feel overwhelmed as the additional demands pile up. The pressure to meet all the expectations of family, friends and co-workers may also result in additional burden. In order to prevent yourself from constantly feeling overwhelmed and burdened, it is crucial for you to adjust your expectations by embracing a more realistic view towards your role as a caregiver.

How can I better manage my expectations?
  • Be realistic. The tasks that come with being a caregiver require a lot of your time and attention, on top of your other responsibilities. As you slowly adjust to your new role as a caregiver, it is crucial that you find a balance between being a caregiver and juggling your other roles. 
  • Keep in mind that you are enough, and that you are doing the best you can. As a caregiver, it is common for you to feel as if you are not meeting the expectations you have of yourself, and the expectations that others may have of you. Instead of focusing your precious energy on how you may have disappointed your loved one, or even yourself, divert that energy towards taking care of yourself as well. 
  • Remind yourself that the recovery journey is not linear. It is common for your loved one to suffer from relapses from time to time, which may cause you to feel frustrated and disappointed. It is also important that you adjust your expectations of your loved one, remembering to be patient and empathetic.​