5 Tips for Supporting Family or Friends With Chronic Illness

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When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can be difficult to know how to best support them. You may feel powerless, and like there is nothing you can do to help. However, there are quite a few things you can do to be a supportive friend or family member.

1. Compassion and Empathy

Listen to what they say, and validate their feelings. It is also important to educate yourself about their illness, so that you can better understand what they are going through. “Walking a mile in another person’s shoes” is the best way to cultivate feelings of compassion and empathy. Rather than putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes for a day or two, make an effort to truly understand what they are going through over the long term.

Spend time talking to them about their symptoms, frustrations, fears, and triumphs. Be there to listen as they vent their worries and sorrows. Show that you are committed to supporting them through this difficult time by doing whatever it takes to lighten their burden, such as cooking meals or running errands for them.

2. Believe in Them

The symptoms can seem overwhelming and even baffling, making it difficult to see the big picture or have faith that things will get better. However, the ability to truly believe in our loved ones can be one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal against chronic illness. 

When we maintain a positive attitude and offer words of encouragement and support, we help them to maintain hope and focus on their goals. Even when things seem bleak, it is important never to lose faith in our loved ones; if we truly believe in them and root for their success, they will find the strength to keep fighting. With that strength comes healing and renewal, more than we could ever imagine from simply believing in them. Chronic illness can be very isolating. Your loved one may feel like nobody believes in them or understands what they are going through. It’s important to let them know that you believe in them and that you will support them through anything.

3. Reflect On What They Say

At first, it can be difficult to reflect on the things that your loved one with a chronic illness says. Between the dizzying array of medications and treatments, not to mention all the stress and upheaval that a chronic illness inevitably causes, it can be hard to stop and really listen for what words are coming out of your loved one’s mouth. Over time, you have to realize that there is so much wisdom in what they say when they face a new hurdle in their treatment.

They are the experts on their own bodies and illnesses. Do your research so that you can better understand what they are dealing with. If you are in the medical profession, you can even consider studying RN to NP online. This way, you can offer more informed support.

4. Show Interest and Support

Make sure to show interest in their well-being, and offer support when needed. This may mean simply checking in with them regularly, or offering to help with practical tasks like grocery shopping or transportation. Show interest in their illness and in their treatment journey. Ask questions about how they are feeling and what you can do to help. Be supportive without being pushy. Remember that ultimately, it is their decision on how much they want to share with you.

Everyone with chronic illness responds to stressful situations in their own unique way. Some may become irritable and lash out at loved ones when they’re feeling overwhelmed or like things aren’t going their way. Others may withdraw and keep their pain and struggles private. In either case, it’s important to be patient and understanding as your loved one works through difficult emotions.

5. Help Them When They Need Help

If your loved one is struggling to manage their chronic illness, offer to help them out. This might mean taking on some of their responsibilities at home or work, or helping them find resources like support groups or counseling services.

Offer help when it is needed but don’t take over. Sometimes, all your loved one needs is someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. Other times, they may need help with day-to-day tasks like groceries or child care. Be there for them when they need you but don’t try to take over their life. Be an attentive listener, offering practical assistance with medical appointments and chores around the house, and acting as a cheerleader when your loved one needs a boost of motivation. Above all, remember that chronic illness is stressful for everyone involved, and don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself if you need it.

If you have a loved one who is living with a chronic illness, it is important to show them compassion and empathy, believe in them, show interest and support, and help them when they need help. Being supportive means helping your loved one feel like they have control over their condition, even if they don’t always appear confident or optimistic on the outside, rather than trying to step in or fix problems before they truly arise. These things will go a long way in helping them manage their illness, and will make them feel supported throughout the process.

With years of experience as a patient advocate, Sheena Yael is passionate about making healthcare accessible and effective for her clients. She also writes about her industry knowledge on various blogs.

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