How to Handle Guilt and Other Caregiver Emotions

I have been my husband’s only caregiver for over 16 years now, and I can truly say it gives me great joy. I must admit, it was very difficult in the beginning. Taking care of a loved one with an illness or disability can stir up some complicated emotions. You may have great days when you feel a deep sense of fulfillment and connection. And hard days, filled with guilt, grief, or anger. You might even have conflicting feelings, like love and resentment, at the same time. It can be challenging, and if you do not pay attention, it will wear you down.

No two caregiving experiences are the same. What triggers one person may not be an issue for another person. You have your own relationship with your loved one, rich and complex with your shared history. So, it is important to know there is no formula for what you will feel or when. And there are no feelings you “should” or “should not” have. Emotions just arise whether you want them to or not.

Anger and Resentment

To give the best care you can, it helps to know the kinds of feelings that might come up, how to recognize them, and what you can do to manage them. What you might feel, such as anger and resentment from being unappreciated to feeling trapped, caregiving stress can set off your anger. You might lose your temper or blurt out something that you normally would not. Many people have these challenging feelings, at least sometimes. And these emotions can show up in different ways, day by day.

Fear and Anxiety

You may have a long list of concerns: “What if I am not around when something goes wrong? What if I make a mistake?” Anxiety happens when we feel out of control. It is also a warning to pay attention and tend to your own needs.

What you can do: Try to avoid focusing too much on what ifs. Keep your attention on things you can control, like making a back up plan for when you cannot be around.


People usually think of grief when someone dies, but it is really about loss. When a loved one gets sick, it changes this person you know so well, which affects your relationship too. That is a loss. What can you do? You may need to grieve. Sometimes, you will just need to cry. And that is all right. It is one way your body releases that pressure.



This is very familiar for many caregivers. Guilt that you are not doing enough, that you should be better at it, that you just want it to end. It is a swamp you could sink in , but

that does not help you or your loved one.

What can you do? Go easy on yourself. If you feel like you are not doing enough, imagine if you were not there and look at the difference you make every day.

Sadness and Depression

Every day, you confront loss and change. Sadness is bound to pop up. If it will not let go and you think you might be depressed, get help right away.

What can you do? You can start with your doctor or by talking with a therapist. Also, exercise and social activities are great ways to handle sadness and depression. Although they do not fix the issue, they give you stress relief, energy, a better mood, and a social connection if you work out with other people.

I hope and pray that I have helped those of you who are having problems with guilt and other caregiver emotions. Next month’s subject will be: How to Manage Those Feelings.


LT Johnson, Caregiver of a Gulf War Veteran

Caregiver Resources:

VA Caregiver Support, Healthy Caregiving published by Quick Series in 2008 and based on the work of Constance A. Burns, NAAV’s Founder, President and CEO and her experience as a caregiver for her mother for twenty-nine years. NAAV’s Chief Executive Officer served as advisor to the co-chairs of the President’s Commission on Care of America’s Returning Warriors and the Mental Health Task Force for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2007 in support of our nation’s service members and combat veterans. She provided the outline and text for the Quick Series Healthy Caregiving booklet published in 2008 for civilians and in 2011 adopted by the VA Caregiver Support Program for veteran caregivers nationwide. In addition, in 2007, NAAV’s CEO caregiver recommendations were included in the final recommendations to President George Bush and submitted to Congress in 2007. In 2010, the Caregiver Bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama. To order a copy of the Healthy Caregiver booklet, visit

Caregiver Support is on the Line, Toll Free at 1-855-260-3274, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. ET Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET.


Are you new to caregiving? The VA Caregiver Support website is your first stop to find the information you need to help you help your veteran. Visit VA Caregiver Support at:

Additional Resources

For Servicemembers

Our Military

Our Military is a Department of Defense (DoD) program that connects individuals, organizations and companies to hundreds of home-front groups offering support to the military community. The program also connects military Servicemembers and thew3ir families to groups that provide assistance.

VA Caregiver Support

Government Sites

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Social Security Administration

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development

Other Resources

Caregiver Action Network

National Alliance for Caregiving

Family Caregiving Alliance National Center on Caregiving


Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center

Brain Injury Association of America

Caring Connections


National Alliance on Mental Illness

Or call their information and referral helpline

At 1 800-950-6264, weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (ET).

Alzheimer’s Association

Or call toll-free 1-800-272-3900, day or night.

24/7 helpline provides reliable information

and support to all those who need assistance.

Eldercare Locator

Or call toll-free 1-800-677-1116 weekdays,

9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET).

The Eldercare Locator is the first step to finding resources

for older adults in any U.S. community. It is a free national

service of the Administration on Aging (AoA). Support

services for Caregivers are also available.

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