Caring for a loved one in pain, whether it’s chronic or acute pain, can be tricky. When it feels like there’s little you can offer in terms of relief or support, all you can do is be there for them. While there are some major parts of their experience you can’t change, these tools can help you offer genuine support that makes a difference.
The complexities of pain
One of the most challenging elements of living with ongoing pain can be communicating its impact, even to friends and family.
Pain is complex and affects everyone differently. One of the first ways you can show support to your friend or family member is by not assuming you understand their experience. You see, pain can be caused by many things, including illness, injury, or ongoing medical condition/s, each with varying degrees of severity and frequency.
Then there’s acute pain versus chronic pain – your loved one might be experiencing one or both. Acute pain is defined as pain that generally comes on suddenly and can be tied to something specific, while chronic pain is ongoing, usually lasting more than six months. You can read more about the differences in this handy article from Cleveland Clinic.
It’s also important to remember that pain doesn’t just have physical impacts. Ongoing pain can be extremely detrimental for the person’s mental and emotional health, creating additional stress.
Empathy is the cornerstone of caring: understand that you may never understand, and that’s OK. By nurturing your ability to empathise (rather than sympathise) with your loved one, you can offer appropriate and empowering emotional support.
Supporting your loved one
While you may not be able to remove the physical pain that your loved one is experiencing, you can help lessen their mental load. This may look like:
- Active listening
- Validating their experience
- Letting them vent
- Avoiding judgement
- Providing encouragement instead of advice
While these may seem like small things, making sure your loved one feels seen, heard, and supported in the midst of their pain can have a major impact on their overall wellbeing.
You may also be able to offer practical support that can help to reduce or alleviate their pain. This may include assisting them with:
- Managing their treatments and medications
- Going to medical appointments with them
- Carrying out daily activities that exacerbate their pain levels or make them feel overwhelmed
Have an open conversation with your loved one about how you can best support them day-to-day. They’ll appreciate the gesture.
Looking after yourself
It’s important to keep your own wellbeing front of mind while you are caring for a loved one in pain. We know it’s easier said than done, but taking care of yourself will help you avoid becoming burnt-out.
Experiment with self-care strategies to find what works for you. Try:
- Taking regular breaks
- Accepting support from others
- Building healthy and clear boundaries
- Ensuring your own physical, mental and emotional needs are met
You deserve love and care in the same way your loved one does. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Building healthy communication patterns
You may find that the pressure of navigating the ever-changing world of pain is putting a strain on communication with your loved one.
One strategy that can make a big difference is prioritising open communication at every turn, building safe and supportive environments where everyone is encouraged to share their needs and experiences. This is where those tools of active listening and empathy can help protect and encourage honest and insightful communication, building the capacity of all involved.
Effective communication is also necessary for exploring pain management techniques with healthcare providers. Your loved one may require you to advocate on their behalf in these instances, emphasising the importance of open and proactive communication wherever possible.
If further support or advice is needed, organisations like Beyond Blue or HealthDirect have trained counsellors that can be reached with a simple call or message.
Phone: 1300 22 4636
Phone: 1800 022 222
A marathon, not a sprint
When you are a caregiver for someone experiencing long-term pain, it’s important to remember the importance of building sustainable approaches that meet everyone’s needs.
A strong support network of family, friends, service providers, and local support groups is crucial in any pain journey. Consider how you can play to the strengths of this network to share the load and make the experience as stress-free as possible for your loved one.