Of the many challenges that family caregivers must face on a daily basis, perhaps the greatest—and least addressed—is the mental and emotional health of the caregivers themselves. Self-care is often the last thing that caregivers address, and living with stress, a sense of overwhelm, and bouts of depression seem to come with the job description. But self-care is not something to ignore. Just as a parent is instructed on the airplane to put the oxygen mask on herself before her child, we must build self-care into our routine, not only for our own well-being, but for the ultimate benefit of those for whom we care.
Often overlooked resources that can provide both emotional support and useful advise for the caregiver are Caregiver Support Groups. These are community-based gatherings that meet on an ongoing basis, and are either run by a professional moderator or are self-organized. These support groups can be life-savers, allowing caregivers to talk with others who are experiencing the same challenges, and who can not only empathize, but also offer valuable insights and suggestions. While friends are essential, other primary caregivers who share your emotional and physical roller coaster ride may offer the best source of support. Moreover, even on your most frazzled days, you may be a source of help to them as well.
Caregivers in support groups report these key benefits:
- Feeling less isolated by hearing stories from others in similar situations
- Having a space to vent and safely voice frustrations
- Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
- Learning new coping methods for stress
- Getting practical advice on caregiving strategies
- Improving caregiving ability
Experts believe that these groups are one of the most effective ways for caregivers to cope with the stress that comes with caregiving. Unfortunately, seeking outside help can be a challenge for caregivers, who often feel as though they must rely on themselves first and foremost. Family caregivers often isolate themselves, turning down coffee invitations, date nights, and workouts at the gym. The typical excuse is that there is no time. But the moment we surrender the notion of being “The One” who must handle it all, and ask for help, we immediately become a less stressed-out and more effective.
Those who have chosen to share the burden have found great benefits from the experience. But to see these benefits, family caregivers first need to find a caregiver support group. That can be difficult if you do not know where to start your search.
Here are a few suggestions on where to find a local caregiver support group:
- Local hospitals or community centers usually have handouts with lists of local support groups. Check there first.
- The online Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov) is a great resource to find your local Area Agency on Aging for your city. Call them to ask about local support groups, which many include general caregiver support and respite, as well as specific needs groups such as dementia care.
- If you find that there is not a support group in your community, partner with your local senior community organizations to start one!
Every caregiver struggles with the day-to-day challenges of his or her role. Instead of feeling isolated and suffering through the experience on your own, try a caregiver support group. It could be a great step toward easing your burden.