What to do if you’re feeling helpless as a carer
When you are caring for a loved one, you need to develop strategies to deal with your own negative feelings and stress. A sense of helplessness is not unusual for families and friends in a carer role. Feelings of helplessness can be particularly heightened if the carer is result-orientated and used to making things happen. If you notice yourself thinking “surely there has to be something that can be done” or similar, you are more at risk of feeling a sense of helplessness at some point as you care for your loved one.
“If you are a person who is used to solving problems, then it is very difficult because there are no answers.”– Anonymous, living with lung cancer.
There will be times when the best thing you can do is to just stay close (metaphorically or physically, depending on the circumstance) to let your loved one know that you are there for them and available if they need you. This might be as simple as staying physically close while your loved one has a bout of coughing which feels like it will never end; or when your loved one tries to catch their breath after a brief physical exertion. In both these circumstances, the most supportive thing you may be able to do is to just be present, even though it might feel like it is not enough.
Other times, you might not want to accept the diagnosis or trajectory of the lung condition. You might want to find a ‘miracle cure’, that doctor who can operate or provide medication to ‘fix’ your loved one. These feelings of needing to do something, and feeling helpless if you don’t try, are common. One of the best things you can do is to simply be there. Hug, hang out and be as ‘normal’ as possible in your relationship with the person who is living with a lung condition. This is especially important as the more serious, life-limiting lung diseases progress.
Never underestimate the power of touch and wonderfulness of a heartfelt hug. It is OK to be close to loved ones when they are seriously unwell. If your loved one is in hospital and has tubes and machines attached to them, find a way to wind your arms around the tubes to touch and hug them; times like these is when the power of touch is most important.
Lastly, allow yourself the right to feel helplessness. It is often linked to how much we care about the other person. The thought that there might not be something to ‘fix’ and still wanting to show how much we care can be excruciating. Like all emotional reactions it will pass, especially if we acknowledge that we are feeling it and that it has a right to be there. View our mindfulness and self-compassion guided practices, which can help you to cultivate helpful skills when experiencing painful or difficult emotions.