If you are a caregiver for a loved one, it is important to know that you are not alone. The daily toll of personally taking care of – and worrying for – your loved one can induce stress, burnout and have taxing effects on your mental and physical health. To combat these issues, building a local support system is essential. While the journey through the care system is not easy—even with the help of professionals—research shows that participation in a support group can make a positive difference.
With that said, why aren’t more caregivers seeking this benefit? In some circles, there is still a stigma associated with support groups. Some people see reaching out to others as a sign of weakness, while others believe confiding in others is a waste of time and effort. A review of these and other commonly held misperceptions shows otherwise.
Myth: Support groups do not provide any answers.
Fact: While it’s true that support groups are not a magic bullet for all your problems, you will find answers and a lot of support while working through a tough or sensitive issue. A caregiver support group can be an excellent resource for gaining information and strategies specific to caring for your loved one. Attending a meeting is an effective means to learn and swap, not only tried-and-tested caregiving advice, but coping techniques shared by others on your common journey.
Myth: You will be required to share your story.
Fact: Support groups are made up of individuals at many different stages along the caregiving timeline. In most groups, you can choose to speak (or not) as you feel comfortable. Whether in-person or online, a support group offers a safe place to get information that is practical, constructive, and helpful, and the option to share your story is yours.
Myth: Other support group participants will criticize me.
Fact: It’s perfectly normal to feel reticent, anxious, or apprehensive about joining. Support groups bring together people who are dealing with similar difficult circumstances, and a well-run support group sets boundaries that require participants to show empathy and respect for each other. Although the format can vary greatly, all groups share one thing in common—they are places where people can share personal stories, express emotions and be heard in an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, and encouragement. Sharing ideas on methods of providing care that may not be found in articles or books can prevent you from having to “re-invent the wheel.”
Myth: I will feel even more depressed after attending a support group.
Fact: The simple act of sharing your problems can be extremely cathartic. Most people feel uplifted and encouraged after attending a support group which can be a valuable step toward healing. Hearing from others facing similar challenges can also make you feel less alone in your struggles.
The life of a caregiver produces certain pitfalls and frustrations that those outside of this circle might not understand. When you join a support group, you are surrounded by a network of individuals who understand your day-to-day struggles. In the company of like-minded people, you can feel comfortable voicing your frustrations, questions, or accomplishments without having to explain yourself. Support groups also provide a confidential, safe place where you can vent your negative emotions and not feel judged. And, when a network of people can provide validation for your feelings of anger, grief, or defeat, it reminds you that you are not alone.
Alzheimers Coachella Valley is a community resource for dementia support and education. For more information and programs, call (760) 776.3100 or visit www.cvalzheimers.org.