There’s a difference between isolation and loneliness. Social isolation is the physical separation from other people–a literal lack of social connections or interactions. Meanwhile, loneliness is an emotional response to social isolation–the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships. In other words, loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or separated, while isolation is objective. You can live alone without being lonely, but it is also possible to feel lonely, even when surrounded by people.
You may have sacrificed more than you realize to care for a loved one. Caring for someone, especially 24/7, can cause you to give up most, if not all, of your social life. Caregiver isolation comes on gradually. It’s a slippery slope that starts with skipping out on social activities. All of a sudden you find yourself not even being invited. As your caregivee’s dependence increases, you may find yourself leaving the house less and less.
Caregiver isolation and subsequent loneliness are caused by a lack of social interaction and stimulation due to a withdrawal from previous habits and lifestyle. Other causes can be a lack of family support, feeling guilty about asking for help, fear of or difficulty going out in public with your charge, or feeling alone in your caregiving duties without support from other caregivers.
According to caregiver.org, caregiver isolation can have unexpected physical side effects like depression as well as weight gain due to emotional eating and increased blood pressure caused by stress–both of which can contribute to complications such as diabetes, stroke or even premature death. It also impacts your overall well-being, making it harder to focus on work, family, and responsibilities outside of your care recipient.
Recognizing the problem is the first step toward solving it. Overcome or avoid caregiver isolation with these helpful tips.
In addition to physical presence, humans need relationships that provide mutual value and trust. As a caregiver, it can be hard to find time for yourself, let alone family and friends. However, studies show that spending time with the people you love on a regular basis can lead to a longer, healthier life.
Guideposts recommends scheduling time to call or meet with friends on a regular basis to maintain friendships and build a stronger support network. Invite your friends over for a game night, start a book club, or go out for a meal. Spending time to create memories together is of the utmost importance when it comes to maintaining relationships. Even if you can’t leave the house, stay in touch with friends near and far via social media, email, and video chat platforms like Skype.
Join a support group
Connecting with supportive people can make you feel less alone. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic. Support groups provide a place to vent your frustrations to people who are facing similar situations.
Many organizations, from hospitals to healthcare plans, offer support groups for caregivers. If you are unable to arrange for a substitute caregiver or travel for support face-to-face, there’s always online support groups for caregivers. Members might have some invaluable knowledge that can help, or they might just listen and provide emotional support, but at the very least, you will know that you aren’t alone.
Ask for help
Between doctor’s visits, getting scripts filled, paying the bills, buying groceries, cooking, and running errands, how are you supposed to have time to yourself, let alone others? Ask a family member or friend to bring over a hot meal, pick up the dry cleaning, or sit in for you for a bit. If you don’t have family or friends nearby, ask neighbors, or members of support or social groups you participate in.
People want to help–accept it when it is offered. If there are funds available, you could hire someone to provide in-home services or look respite care like adult daycare centers. Not only will this give you a much-needed break, but it can also give you the chance to interact with other people.
Get out there
Take responsibility for your isolation and feelings of loneliness and make an effort to build up your network. Join a club, attend local events, volunteer, get involved at church, meet your neighbors, join a gym, sign up for a class, dine out with others, or invite them to dinner at your place.
Consider getting a pet
Pets are wonderful companions and can provide comfort and support during times of stress, ill-health, or isolation.
Get professional help
If feelings of isolation are acute or you’re experiencing chronic loneliness, feelings of hopelessness, or are overcome with anxiety, it’s time for professional attention. Call a support line or your physician for a referral to a mental health expert to work with you to find ways to make these feelings abate.