Emotion regulation among caregivers: Implications for psychological and physical health

Mounting evidence indicates that taking care of a spouse with a chronic disease increases the caregiver’s vulnerability to psychological and physical illness. Caregivers report poorer health and use medications for physical problems more than non-caregivers, and they are 63 percent more likely to die over a five-year period than non-caregivers. Little is known about the ways caregiving affects health and well being. However, it has been observed that some individuals adapt successfully to the role of caregiver, despite the multitude of social, economic, and personal demands it places on them. This variability in caregiver well-being suggests that there are important individual differences in responding to stressful situations. Teresa Marin is analyzing the daily impact of expressing or suppressing emotions on the mental and physical health of spouses caring for cancer patients. While a caregiver may routinely control negative feelings to avoid upsetting the spouse, research suggests that chronic suppression of negative emotions may increase distress in the long run, because it can limit communication and support within and outside of the marital relationship. Teresa believes that strategies for dealing with negative emotions may be an important link between the day-to-day demands of caregiving and long-term health. By determining how emotional and coping behaviours affect well being, clinical interventions can be designed to foster healthy adjustment among caregivers.