The Emotional Landscape of Accessing Formal Supports: How Social Contexts Shape the Stress of Caring

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Laura FUNK, University of Manitoba, Canada
Family members often engage in considerable navigational work with and for older adults, serving at the interface between informal and formal care. This work is more extensive and more challenging in the context of fragmented, uncoordinated and often under-resourced formal systems. As such, systemic features of formal care contexts can generate structural burden. Although in-depth knowledge of how this occurs tends to be lacking, carer emotions may play a central role. Stemming primarily from interpretive and thematic analysis of interviews with 32 family carers of older adults, I explicate the emotional dynamics of, and emotional work involved, in navigating a range of health and social services. For instance, carers’ fears of retribution invoked a need for emotional self-control to maintain good relationships with providers. Self-control was also necessitated when carers might otherwise give up on particular services in frustration. When navigation was slow or unsuccessful, carers grappled with guilt and worry. In other cases, navigation required ‘becoming angry,’ and for some carers this was difficult to reconcile with their identity. In addition, although the imperative of adopting a carer identity to access some services might shift feelings of isolation towards feelings of belonging, it may also generate other more problematic emotional outcomes. There were important temporal elements to emotions; as their caring experiences progressed, carer emotions generally shifted from feelings of being lost or confused, to surprise/shock, anger and frustration, and in some cases expanded to simultaneously include elements of pride and confidence. In discussion, I summarize how a sociological understanding of emotions can help in understanding how broader contextual features shape the emotional dynamics of carers’ navigational experiences, indirectly contributing to carer stress and burden.