Many caregivers feel alone in their role and responsibility. In the research, social isolation is identified as one of the highest risk factors experienced by family caregivers. It’s also what friends, family and professionals frequently observe. Yet, it can also the be the hardest area to change or improve.
Connections with others can start to wane as a family deals with a worsening condition, chronic disease or terminal illness. Or when symptoms become more apparent and challenging, sometimes people don’t know how to help or what to say. Creating or sustaining personal connections can fall by the wayside for caregivers; it’s easy to put one’s emotional and social needs aside when caring for someone else. Gradually, as the role of caregiving lengthens or intensifies, it can harm quality of life and makes caregiving less sustainable.
Before we talk about the benefits of staying connected, it’s important to acknowledge the energy required to nourish or develop our social circle. There can feel like a hundred good reasons to not invest the time or energy required. Sometimes caregivers don’t have others locally to support them or time devoted to caregiving can cause caregivers to feel isolated from friends, family and a social life. Sometimes they are simply too tired to go out. Or the care recipient’s health may prevent the caregiver from leaving them alone or no respite care is available. And many caregivers don’t ask for help. They believe they should be able to do everything themselves. They may believe people are too busy or they will burden others with their needs.
All of us, in different degrees, need stable and satisfying relationships in our lives and within our community. These relationships go both ways: giving and receiving social support. Meeting social needs gives way to participating in activities that we enjoy and socializing with friends or like-minded people. It results in feelings of being supported and creates opportunities to spark joy and laughter. In other acceptable circles, such as support groups, it gives a safe and trusting place to express frustration, anger and feelings of guilt.
Some places to start:
- Think about who you have in your inner circle of support. Try reaching out and talking about or asking for one thing that could support you in your caregiving role. The more specific you are, the easier it is for someone to help.
- Share your experiences with others at a support group. It can help alleviate the feeling that you are alone in your caregiving. With online support chat forums and workshops, there is always someone to connect with 24-7.
- If you haven’t already, reach out to local community and health organizations that provide respite care and services for family caregivers. It doesn’t work in every case, but when it does, it provides both you and the care recipient with opportunities to interact with other people. It can also provide a break, so you can connect with others.
Staying connected and socializing bring positivity to the demands of caregiving.
Caregivers who feel supported and can find small breaks to stay socially connected are able to continue caregiving and have an increased quality of life.