Millions of families are affected by chronic illness each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease, and four in ten adults have two or more.
When a family member or friend is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can be difficult for everyone involved. You may feel overwhelmed, unsure of what to do or say, or worried about how to support your loved one through this challenging journey. However, there are many ways that you can offer comfort, help, and hope to someone living with a chronic illness.
This article aims to provide you with actionable advice that you can use to support your loved one on their journey towards better health and well-being.
1- Educate Yourself
It is easier to offer better support and communicate more effectively with your loved ones when you understand what they are experiencing.
Credible sources such as medical journals, academic institutions, and established medical organizations are ideal places to start. You can consult healthcare professionals for more comprehensive and personalized information about the condition.
In addition to learning about the diagnosis, it’s critical to be aware of the available treatment options, including surgical options and therapeutic care. Some chronic illnesses, like mesothelioma, a severe disease caused by asbestos, may require specialized care. Discussing these options with your loved one’s medical team is vital to determine which option may be best for them.
Educating yourself about your loved one’s chronic illness diagnosis and available treatment options can aid you with warning signs and symptoms and take proactive steps to prevent or manage them.
2- Listen to Their Needs and Communicate
One of the most important things you can do is listen to your loved one and communicate with them. Encourage them to share their feelings and concerns, and let them know you are there for them.
Here are some tips for how to do that:
- Listen actively: Avoid interrupting or offering unsolicited advice. Instead, allow your loved one to express themselves fully.
- Ask questions: Ask open-ended questions to understand their needs. For example, “How can I support you?” or “How can we work together to make things easier?”
- Use empathy: Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and try to understand their perspective. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and validating their experiences.
Remember, communication is a two-way street, so share your thoughts and feelings equally. Together, you can navigate this journey and support your loved one every step of the way.
3- Be supportive
Chronic illness can be an overwhelming experience for anyone. Offering support can make all the difference in helping them navigate the challenges and difficulties of the condition. But what does it mean to be supportive? It means offering a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, and a heart full of compassion.
To provide emotional support, you can listen to them without judgment and let them know you are there for them. You can also offer words of affirmation and help them maintain a positive outlook. For example, you could say, “I’m proud of you for handling this so well,” or “You are so strong and resilient.”
In addition to emotional support, you can also offer practical help with daily activities. Tasks include running errands, preparing meals, or providing transportation to medical appointments. By helping with these tasks, you can make your loved one’s life easier and less stressful.
4- Help Them Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
When it comes to managing chronic illness, a healthy lifestyle is fundamental. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet, staying active, and getting enough rest are all essential factors in improving overall health and reducing symptoms. As a supporter, you can play a crucial role in helping your loved one maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Convince them to incorporate colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into their diet. If they struggle to prepare meals, offer to help with grocery shopping or meal planning. Cooking together can be a fun and engaging activity, and it can also help them feel less alone in their illness journey.
It’s imperative to find activities that your loved one enjoys and that are appropriate for their condition. Whether it’s taking a brisk walk, doing gentle yoga, or participating in a water aerobics class, there are plenty of options. If they need extra motivation or support, consider joining them for an exercise session or hiring a specialized personal trainer.
5- Acknowledge Their Pain
When your loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness, they may experience various emotions, including fear, anxiety, frustration, and sadness. These emotions are normal and valid, and it’s essential to acknowledge and validate them.
Here are some ways to validate your loved one’s pain and emotions:
- Avoid minimizing their experience: Avoid saying things like “It could be worse” or “At least you don’t have X.” These comments can be dismissive and make your loved one feel unheard and unsupported.
- Be patient: Chronic illness can be a long and challenging journey. Be patient and understanding, and offer support and encouragement along the way.
Chronic illness can be challenging, but with the appropriate support, your loved one can feel less alone and better equipped to handle the ups and downs.
Remember to be patient and flexible, as everyone copes with chronic illness differently. Remember that the goal is not to fix everything but to be a source of strength and comfort for your loved one.
As you embark on this journey together, know that your support and care can make all the difference in your loved one’s life. By showing them that they are not alone, that they are loved and valued, and that you will be there for them every step of the way, you can help them face their challenges with courage, resilience, and hope.