Finding Ways to Combat the Isolation of Caregiving
I read an article recently about caregiving issues and one of the biggest issues is that while everyone is worrying about the caree’s health and well-being, no one is worrying about the caregiver. It is assumed that since they are the “healthy” one, their needs aren’t as important.
Sadly, not all caregivers start out healthy, and even for those who do, lack of caring for your own well-being for years at a time can cause health issues. Loneliness can lead to physical and mental health problems.
Caregiving can be incredibly isolating. Even if you have the ability to get out and see friends, sometimes you just don’t want to. It can be a bit of a downward cycle. Too tired to see friends, sad that you don’t get to see your friends.
I get it. I have been in this cycle. I am an extrovert, but sometimes, even an extrovert needs to spend time alone, decompressing. Then, I get frustrated that I never get to see my friends.
Here’s what has worked for me, as well as other tips I’ve found for reducing isolation in caregivers.
- Squeeze in Self-Care: It can be hard to spend time with others when you feel like you barely have a second to breathe. If you focus on small bursts of self-care, you may feel less overwhelmed, making you more interested in spending time with others.
- Bring Gatherings To You: I know, I know, the house is a mess, there’s no time to clean, I don’t have time or energy to cook, etc. That being said, true friends won’t care about the mess. Trust me, I have never cared and am trying to remind myself of that when my own home is a mess. As for food, you can do a potluck or purchase pre-cooked food, order takeout or gather at a time when food isn’t necessary. Your real friends won’t care about your hosting abilities. They just care about spending time with you.
- Reach Out: If you don’t tell people how overwhelmed or lonely you are, they won’t know. We’re all selfish and busy, so sometimes, we don’t see that a friend is struggling unless they reach out. That doesn’t make us bad people, it just means that we all need to speak our needs more often. People who aren’t caring for an adult loved one don’t know how much time or energy goes into caring for another adult. They may just assume you do a few things here and there and are busy with life, not realizing you’re drowning. Tell your friends you are struggling. Good friends will rise, bad friends will sink.
- Find Alternatives: If you can’t find a meeting time or place to get together in person, can you do phone calls, text each other regularly or email each other for support? My preference is always in person because I hate talking on the phone, but for some people, in person isn’t always the way to go, especially if your closest friends don’t live near you. My best friend doesn’t live far, but we are both too busy to get together as often as we’d like. Our communication of choice lately is Instant Message/Texting during the week. We can keep up with each other’s lives and support each other even if we can’t get together. Distance doesn’t have to be a deterrent. You’ll just need to get creative.
- Find New Friends: Sometimes, in crisis, we realize that we don’t have as many true friends as we thought we had. If you’re feeling a little left out or down about a lack of friends, consider making new friends who know exactly what you’re going through. Check with your local medical provider or senior center to find support groups for caregivers or people with the same ailment as your caree. If getting to a support group is difficult, consider finding online support. There are many Facebook groups for caregivers as well as many people on Twitter who tweet about caregiving and several are actual caregivers themselves.
All of these suggestions require a bit of effort on your part, however, once you get out there, you’ll probably be happy you did. There are very few times when I’ve gone out with friends on a day where I wasn’t feeling well or was tired that I’ve actually regretted getting out. Even reaching out via text or email has always made me feel better.
Don’t assume that they are avoiding you or are bad friends. Assume that they are busy and don’t realize how challenging being a caregiver can be. Unfortunately, if you’re the first in your circle of friends to go through this challenge, you don’t have people ahead of you who understand the difficulty.