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Managing mood swings when caring

We can all get irritated in normal relationships – couples, teenagers, parents etc. But how much more distressing is it in a carer/cared-for relationship?

First, it is important not to overreact to difficult changes in mood– not easy, especially if we are tired. Mood swings – bad temper, rudeness and verbal aggression – may resolve themselves and relationships quickly becoming normalised – the cared-for may simply have forgotten all about it.  Your best option is to carry on as if little had happened, but be vigilant for more episodes and to analyse the possible causes such as a health problem like tooth ache. Other causes may be the fear of getting old, loss of a loved husband, wife or partner, or reduced contact with long-term friends. Other triggers may be emotional baggage originating from past family upsets, for example a failure of children and grandchildren to visit or be supportive at times of need; dependence on others for their care and safety can be frustrating.

The carer needs to be aware of the effects of their own body language - if after listening for the umpteenth time to the same thing, it is hardly surprising that the carer’s facial expression is ‘Oh not that again’! Self-awareness and an ability to turn a deaf ear are key to pre-empting and coping with such situations.

My experiences suggest that the root cause of mood swings is frustration: on the part of the carer with a life slowed down by caring, difficulties of normal conversation when there is hearing loss or getting people to make important decisions. For the cared-for, the frustrations of forgetfulness - not finding wallets, keys etc., the effects of hearing loss on normal two-way conversation and the resultant misunderstandings, a dependence on others, may all give rise to frustration.

So, what to do about mood swings? Understanding that frustration might be a factor, rather than any long-lasting deterioration in relationships is, I think, the key factor to managing mood situations.  Knowing this, then cultivate ultra-patience and tolerance, allowing episodes of bad moods to resolve themselves without the carer reacting and just carrying on in the expectation that mood swings will be transient. Try to avoid predictable triggers such as situations where public are intolerant and minimise unexpected changes to routine.

Above all, do not forget the privilege of caring for someone special.