The most important thing you can do for yourself as a caregiver is to create a support network. Family, friends, medical professionals, fellow caregivers—these are all people that will become your foundation and your source of strength. When you devote your time and energy to caring for a loved one, you are susceptible to burnout, depression, sickness, and stress. With a healthy support system in place, you will be cared for when life happens.
Informing friends and family
Family and friends may have always been the center of your foundation. But caregiving is an isolating task that can draw you away from the people you love. Therefore, it is important that they stay informed on your loved one’s progress and your well being through email, phone calls, coffee dates, or any other method of communication. Caring Bridge is a free, user-friendly tool to keep the people in your life informed on you or your loved ones’ health challenges. CarePages is a similar resource. Your friends and family want to hear from you even if the news might feel consistently somber. Connecting with your family by writing about your experience in journal or blog form is particularly helpful. It allows you the relief of getting some of your struggles, hopes and fears out of your head and it also gives your family and friends the ability to have a greater understanding of your journey.
Connecting with other caregivers
As much as your family and friends love you, it will always be difficult for them to understand the challenges and emotions caregivers face. Although you can depend on them to listen and support you, it is immensely beneficial to share your journey with another caregiver. Typically, only fellow caregivers can offer you the strength and hope you need to get through each day. Fortunately, the Internet has made the search for, and connection with, other caregivers fast, easy, and virtually universal. There are many websites you can use to find other caregivers, like Gilda’s Club or the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). The NFCA has a great caregiver Story Project/ Pen-Pal Program that enables you to search for caregiver’s stories, submit your own caregiver story, and initiate a pen-pal relationship with another caregiver. Use our live chat feature to speak with someone directly!
Form a core group of caregivers online, in chat rooms or on forums and check in with one another often. See how their loved ones are doing and how they are feeling about it. Some people in your group may have already gone through what you are facing and can offer advice. Others may look to you to help them get through this time. No matter what, you all share the identity of caregiver and the ability to relate to one another.
Find a professional caregiver to support you
There may be times when your friends and family are unavailable to cover for you when you need a weekend to rest. Or perhaps there is a day when you need some extra support caring for your loved one. Don’t be afraid to reach out for some professional support. Look for home health aides or certified nurse aides, ask about their support capacities and their training, set up an interview or a trial. Caring.com can help you with your search.
Getting involved with support groups
In addition to your family, friends, and fellow caregivers, a structured support group may be of great benefit. You can find support groups online in designated chat rooms or in person groups at your hospital. There are also telephone bridged support groups. You can find groups to help you understand and cope with a specific affliction or a group particularly geared to helping caregivers. Today’s Caregiver, a subsidiary group of Caregiver.com, has a wonderful directory of support groups in the U.S. and can easily guide you to one in your area.
Organizing your support system
Make a list of friends, family, neighbors, caregivers, and professionals that are available to support you. Divide them into groups: who can be there for you in an emergency? Who can you call to talk to every day? Who is able to take care of your loved one when you need time to take care of yourself? Who can help you keep your network informed on you and your loved one’s journey? Keep that list somewhere you can reference it every day. There will be times when you feel in control and times when everything seems out of your grasp. Reach out. Pick up the phone and make a call to someone in your caregiver support network. The people who love you want to lend a hand. They might not know how to be of service you so it’s up to you to tell them. A lot of family and friends feel helpless when someone they know is sick. You are helping them by giving them something to do that will support you and your loved one! Share the Care is an incredible non-profit that can guide you through the steps of setting up a support network. Cappy and Sheila, founders of the non-profit, understand how mentally and physically draining caregiving can be without any outside help so they published a book to give others a framework to start building a caregiver support network.