4 Tips for Managing Caregiver Anger

Health & Wellness

“I’m so mad my spouse has mesothelioma. It’s not fair! This wasn’t what we had planned for our lives. I know it’s not their fault that they have mesothelioma and I shouldn’t be mad at my spouse. But sometimes, I don’t know what to do with my anger!” 

When a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma and we step up to be their caregiver, we aspire to be patient, loving, reliable and graceful. But the complex emotional and physical challenges of caregiving can sometimes lead us to feel frustrated, short-tempered, resentful and exhausted among other things. 

Their own anger may surprise caregivers. They may feel guilty for having that emotion. But, being aware of our feelings and what is going on in our life can help us learn to express it in a healthy way.

1. Give Yourself Permission to Feel Your Anger

Caregivers benefit from giving themselves permission to have ALL the emotions that accompany being a mesothelioma caregiver. We’re human. We’ll get tired and frustrated at times. It’s helpful to expect that to occur and that it’s okay to feel all the feelings. 

Just like mesothelioma patients sometimes report feeling pressured to have a positive or hopeful outlook, caregivers too may feel like they should always be upbeat, calm and positive. This is unrealistic. This expectation can lead to caregivers feeling like they’re not doing a good job when they feel frustrated or angry. 

Anger is a normal human emotion. Unfortunately, anger has a bad reputation when we only hear about it being expressed violently or misdirected towards the wrong person. However, there are significant benefits for caregivers in experiencing their anger, understanding it and finding positive ways to express it.

2. Know the Signs of Anger and Frustration

We’re all different in how we experience anger. It can be helpful to reflect on what our first signs are so that we can be more aware of our emotions. 

Many people experience physical symptoms as a first sign of anger such as:

  • Agitation
  • Clenched jaw
  • Feeling hot 
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomach pain

Anger can be a very energizing feeling. It can feel like pressure that needs to be released. Finding positive ways to release or redirect that energy can help.

3. Recognize Caregiver Anger As a Wake-Up Call

Sometimes anger is a wake-up call to solve a problem in our life. Perhaps we need to review our to-do list and take some items off, ask for help or find useful family resources

Once we notice that we’re feeling angry, it’s helpful to think about what is leading us to feel that way. Common reasons why mesothelioma caregivers report feeling frustrated or angry:

  • Anticipatory grief
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Helplessness when unable to manage the patient’s symptoms or disease
  • Physical exhaustion from their caregiver duties
  • Resentment from putting own personal needs on the back burner
  • Social isolation

Are we frustrated that our life is turned upside down since our loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma? Are we angry that we can’t make any plans because of our loved one’s treatment schedule? Are we upset that we feel like we have too much to do and not enough time or energy to get it all done? 

Feeling anger and frustration in this situation is understandable. There may not be much we can do to change everything about this situation, but we can learn to manage our expression of anger so that it doesn’t cause us or our loved one’s harm.

4. Finding Positive Outlets for Anger

When we feel a lot of anger, it can be helpful to find ways to channel that energy or let it go in ways that help us feel relief. That process can be different for everyone and even different for ourselves on different days.

Sometimes peaceful or mindful activities such as crochet or yoga are just what we need. But sometimes angry energy is best redirected to activities that are physically tiring like hitting a racquetball against a wall.

Some positive approaches to try:

  • Dancing
  • Journaling our thoughts and feelings
  • Playing sports like handball, pickleball, racquetball or tennis
  • Venting to friends
  • Walking briskly

Activities like cleaning may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re tired, but sometimes can help expend anger. The key is to know what you’re feeling, recognize the need behind it and be open to experiencing it, using it and asking for help when you need it.

One way to find a safe and supportive space to vent, talk about strategies that help people going through similar experiences and build community is through mesothelioma support groups. The Mesothelioma Center’s support group, for example, is exclusively designed for caregivers and survivors. Private Facebook groups can also provide 24/7 connections with other caregivers.

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