It is not news to most caregivers that they are at risk of isolation. You may not have the energy other than your caregiving responsibilities; you think other people don’t understand, or that you don’t want to burden other people talking about your caregiving.
One of the hardest parts of being a full-time caregiver is the sheer “constant-ness” of it all. You have so much to do – especially if there are multiple doctor appointments, pharmacy runs, and children of your own. When is there time for friends? Between 40-70 percent of caregivers, when polled, will claim experiencing symptoms of clinical depression. These symptoms can be caused by the loneliness and lack of balance in the caregiving situation.
Why it is Important to Avoid Loneliness
Part of being a healthy person is reaching out and being with other people. We need to share laughs, ideas, and our feelings and experiences. Without this, we are often on a downward spiral where we start to lose a sense of ourselves and experience burnout. In one old poem, Desiderata, the author says “many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness” and it is true of many ailments and bad days too. We need people.
In 2012, John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago Social Psychologist, presented his findings on the biological impact of isolation and loneliness. Among his key findings is evidence that isolation can increase hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, inflammation of the body, and weaken the immune system to fight off viruses.
Relationships take time and effort – things that caregivers have a short supply. And apparently, the longer a person is socially isolated; a downward spiral can occur that makes it harder to get back in the social groove. What can you do to make a difference?
While it is true that caregivers may experience more isolation simply due to the heavy time commitments to family, it is not necessary to allow the isolation to spiral into the type of on-going loneliness that could impact your health. Taking positive steps toward social engagement and looking on the bright side of things can help.
Here are some tips to help combat Caregiver Isolation
- Encourage your family and friends to visit you and your loved one.
- Social Outings – Take your loved one on social outings, if possible.
- Don’t cut off ties with people who aren’t directly connected with your loved one or your caregiving situation.
- When you’re with other people, talk about your situation so that you can get things off your chest and they can know what’s going on. But talk about other things, too.
- Join a support group, so that you can share your experiences with people who know what you’re going through. You can also pick up caregiving tips.
- Find old friends: Search social media websites to recreate connections with old pals and classmates. This can be done at odd hours and at your convenience.
- Utilize online communities for caregivers to share common experiences. When polled, one of the largest needs caregivers have is to get emotional support from people who understand the situation. Sometimes, online caregivers can offer a great sounding board. SageMinder’s community has many different topics to choose from. Like Facebook, online communities are not limited to regular hours. Learn more about Facebook if you are not familiar.
- Get respite help and take a day or two off every now and then. Set up a lunch date with an old friend or family member to just relax and enjoy some fun out. Make a list of people you would like to reconnect with. If you can’t think of anyone nearby, make a promise to reach out to someone you see regularly now but have not made a connection with yet. Just offering coffee can open up a good friendship.
- Join a group or take a class. If you can get away for an hour a week, you can find a class offered by a local school district, college, or organization.
- Set up get-togethers for family or friends to visit your loved one – who may be feeling a bit lonely too. It seems like a lot of work – but if you say “potluck” dessert at our house Saturday night at 7pm – there is little you have to do except get out some plates and spoons. Often family members will appreciate the occasion to get together and you can get a break from being the sole entertainment for your loved one.
- Make an acquaintance: In nice weather go out with your loved one to a park and strike up conversations. You would be surprised at how one pleasant conversation can take you out of your sense of isolation even if you never see the person again.
- Stay in touch with the world – know what else is going on in the world with the news and events going on around you. Even if you cannot fully find time to participate, you at least can feel like you are somehow part of the happenings in your town, community, neighborhood, etc.
- Write letters or send cards – email or something sent through regular main – to friends or people from your past. Let them know what is going on and ask questions about their lives. When you get responses, keep in touch.
- Keep a positive attitude. Look at situation as necessary now but keep focused on the moments and feel good
about the valuable role you are playing as a caregiver.
- Maintain your confidence as someone who is not just a caregiver. Sometimes, when we have been out of
circulation for a while, we start to lose confidence in our ability to socialize. As a caregiver, you may feel you have nothing relevant or exciting to say to someone who may be traveling the world or otherwise having more glamorous adventures. Don’t short-change yourself – you are doing one of the most honorable things imaginable and you are not dead – you are growing in ways that many others will never experience.
- Be a good friend to yourself. Take long baths, journal, take yourself out to coffee or a movie if you can’t find someone else that day. Do things you enjoy and care for yourself in tangible ways: exercise, eating well, and resting when you can.
- Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or ADRC for ideas about support groups and other supports.