Where can the supporters turn for support?
Our Ask An Angel correspondent is Arlene Petersen, Certified Senior Advisor and Life Care Navigation Specialist in the area of senior home care.
I have been caring for my husband for just a short time, and I already feel stressed. A friend suggested that I join a support group, but I don’t even know what that is. Can you point me in the right direction?
Support is so important when going through a struggle or difficult time in life. Some people are open to support groups and others are not, thinking they can handle their situation on their own. Perhaps they can, but I think of it in a slightly different way. For example, if my car has a problem, I will seek the advice of an expert mechanic to fix it. I would never consider tackling the repair on my own or giving it to an un-trusted source.
I apply that truth to other areas of my life as well. If I need help, I work with a professional to solve whatever needs to be solved. I have an attorney, an accountant, a pastor, etc. All of these people are experts in their field. This applies to support in life as well.
A caregiver support group is an excellent resource when life involves caring for a loved one. Stress is inevitable in this type of situation. You might feel overwhelmed, and when you feel that way, stress occurs. Stress can cause us to act in impatient and even un-loving ways toward those we are caring for. The common airplane instruction of “put the breathing mask on yourself first” applies here. A support group is the “breathing mask” which allows a break so that you can be re-energized and refreshed to tackle the role of caregiver.
The Mayo Clinic offers advice on the benefits of a support group:
— Feeling less lonely, isolated, or judged
— Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
— Improved coping skills and adjustment
— An opportunity to talk openly and honestly about your feelings
— Reduction in distress, depression, or anxiety
— A clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
— Learning about new medical research
— Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
— Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options
Plan to attend a few support group meetings to see how you feel you fit in. If the support group makes you uncomfortable or you don’t find it useful, try another one. Remember that even a support group you like can change over time as participants come and go. Periodically evaluate the support group to make sure it continues to meet your needs.
Also be aware that you may be at a different stage of coping or acceptance than are others in the support group. Or they may have a different attitude about their situation. While such a mix can provide rich experiences, it may also be unhelpful or even harmful. For instance, some in the group may be pessimistic about their future, while you’re looking for hope and optimism. Don’t feel obligated to keep attending the group if a conflict or group dynamic is upsetting — find another group or just sit out for a while.
Support group red flags
Not all support groups are a good match for you. Some may be driven by the interests of one or two members. Look for these red flags that may signal a problem with a support group:
— Promises of a sure cure for your disease or condition
— Meetings that are predominantly gripe sessions
— A group leader or member who urges to stop medical treatment
— High fees to attend the group
— Pressure to purchase products or services
— Disruptive members
— Judging your decisions or actions
Be especially careful when you’re involved in internet support groups:
— Keep in mind that online support groups are sometimes used to prey on vulnerable people.
— Be aware of the possibility that people may not be who they say they are or may be trying to market a product or treatment.
— Be careful about revealing personal information, such as your full name, address, or phone number.
— Don’t let internet use lead to isolation from your in-person social network.
Support groups can be found in your community through local resources. You can begin by asking your doctor or nurse for references. You can also contact a local church or hospital clergy for resource information. We also recommend Senior Services. Their main office number is 847-741-0404.
I realize that attending a support group can be challenging. You may be a quiet observer when you first attend a meeting. Once the meeting is over and you are in the quiet of your own home, you can digest how the group interacted. Reflect and think about how you can fit in the next time you visit the group. In time, you may feel comfortable to share. Remember, it can be a rewarding experience.
If you are a caregiver and would like a set of Caregiver Support Cards, please call me. Please note they are spiritual in nature and deliver inspirational messages that can bring refreshment to a caregiver. These cards offer one small way to received support as you provide care to your loved one. Call me at 847-429-0100 and I will make arrangements to mail you a set of these caregiver support cards.
Have a question for our angel correspondent? You can send our angel an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send your question via mail to Ask An Angel, 65 Woodbury St., South Elgin, IL 60177.