When you're a family caregiver, finding a minute to do almost anything but provide care sometimes seems impossible. But caregivers need support, and they often don't want to or are unable to vent to other family members or friends about caregiving's nitty-gritty details. Luckily, online support resources provide caregivers with support, connections and convenience.
Lots of family caregivers aren't so sure an online support group will help them. They wonder if the lack of in-person interaction is impersonal and aren't quite sure how to navigate the etiquette of an online community where they can't hear others voices or see their faces.
Why make the effort to connect with others? “Caregiving, on top of the stress and logistical challenges of caring for an aging loved one, is very lonely," says Andy Cohen, founder of Caring.com, an online destination for family caregivers. “Support groups are a way to make them not feel so alone."
Face-to-face support groups offer important personal interaction, but they aren't for everyone. Caregivers who won't take the time to go to an in-person group or who don't want to find back-up care can really benefit from connecting with others online. And, for some, it's easier to talk about your feelings out of a group setting.
Cohen says many caregivers are reluctant to share their complex feelings with people who aren't experiencing the same things. “It isn't something they want to post to Facebook," he says, and they are worried they will always be the downer in conversations.
“Online support groups are wonderful in that they offer flexibility," says Todd McCallum, associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University. Online support groups give people an outlet wherever they can fit it into their days. And although some people do middle-of-the-night postings, Cohen says many more caregivers log in during working hours or a lunch break.
If you're interested in an online support group, just start reading the posts of some groups, says McCallum. You might be asked to register to participate (usually for security reasons), but that doesn't mean you have to post anything, he says.
Ideally, users attend an online support group with some understood manners. It's a good idea to let people know you are considering joining the group when you start reading. “Say, 'I am just checking this out right now and I might not say very much,'" says McCallum. And if you find just following along is helpful to you, you can remain a less vocal group member. To be polite, McCallum says every now and then post that even if you aren't saying much, the others' stories are helping you.
Reluctant to try it out? “Most people will see the benefit of using online support groups when they start to use them," says McCallum. “It's just getting them to use it."
In the end, don't let your uncertainty keep you away from something that could make your caregiving journey easier. “Remember, taking care of yourself is how you become a better caregiver," says Cohen. “Anything that caregivers can do to make themselves healthier puts them in a better position to care for someone else."