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 themselves before their child, we must build self-care into our routine, not only for our own well-being, but for the ultimate benefit of those we care for.
An often overlooked resource that can provide both emotional support and useful advise for the caregiver are Caregiver Support Groups. These are community-based gatherings, sometimes run by a professional moderator, but often self-organized, that meet on an ongoing basis. Often, a support group can be a life-saver, allowing caregivers to talk to others who are experiencing the same challenges, and who can not only empathize, but offer valuable insights and suggestions. While friends are essential, it turns out that other primary caregivers who share your emotional and physical roller coaster ride may offer the best source of support. And 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 the typical caregiver, who often feels as though he or she must rely on themselves first and foremost. Family caregivers often isolate themselves—turning down coffee invitations, date nights and workouts at the gym. “There’s no time,” is the typical excuse. But the moment we surrender the notion of being “The One” who must handle it all and we ask for help, we immediately become a less stressed-out caregiver. 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 don’t know where to start your search.
How to find a local caregiver support group
• Local hospitals or community centers almost always have handouts with lists of local support groups. Check there first.
• The online Enter Eldercare Locator (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 up!
Every caregiver struggles with the day-to-day challenges of their role. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and isolated and suffering through the experience on your own, try a caregiver support group. It may just make your life easier.
—By Caren Parnes
Contributor for The Senior’s Choice