Caregivers are under a lot of stress which can sometimes cause them to feel isolated. In fact, social isolation has recently been regarded as one of the most dangerous side effects of caregiving. This piece will cover the negative side effects of caregiver isolation along with the many health benefits of socialization.
Dangers of Social Isolation
Social isolation leads to higher levels of both caregiver stress and depression. Additionally, caregivers who isolate themselves tend to receive less sleep, which in turn weakens their own immune systems. While this is extremely detrimental to the quality of care given to an older adult that is being cared for, the negative impact that social isolation has on brain and heart health is astonishing.
According to a research study, caregivers who don’t get enough social interaction are 29 percent more likely to suffer from heart disease and 32 percent more at risk for stroke. The most concerning figure of all is that adults middle-aged and older have a 30 percent increase in the likelihood of dying in the subsequent seven years after they began to isolate themselves ¹.
Challenges of Remaining Social While Caregiving
Caregiving is often unpredictable, and therefore complicates one’s ability to maintain a healthy social life.
The behavior of older adults tends to be unpredictable, especially as their mental and physical health begin to decline. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself rescheduling or cancelling certain activities to accommodate the needs of the person you’re caring for.
Many people may have trouble fully understanding the flexibility required by caregivers. Keep in mind that it’s difficult for many people to understand that oftentimes you are putting someone else’s needs before your own.
Unfortunately, many caregivers become completely overwhelmed by the emotional demands of the job, causing them to withdraw socially ². Caregivers who close themselves off from friends and family members often have a more difficult time ingratiating themselves back into the social group ³. Some people may take a caregiver’s self isolation personally, and may think the caregiver has a problem with them instead of outside circumstances dictating the isolation.
If that seems to be the situation, the caregiver should tell their friends that this is not the case, rather it’s been hard to leave the house because of the rigors of caregiving. Open communication will provide friends with context and allow them to make efforts themselves to draw the caregiver out of isolation.
Despite these challenges, there are solutions to the aforementioned problems that can help manage caregiver stress by making the caregiver more social.
How to Avoid Caregiver Isolation
Isolation is a major cause of caregiver burnout, so it’s critical to evaluate your own habits in addition to those of the person you’re caring for. Ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time I [insert activity that you’ve always loved doing]? How long has it been since I had a purely social outing with a close friend or family member? Do I need to recharge? Frequently asking yourself questions like these is a great way to take care for yourself while caregiving.
Adding social time into your calendar as you would doctor appointments and supermarket trips is highly recommended to stay rejuvenated and energized. Staying social allows you to decompress, reflect, share stories, and vent. Even if your care recipient complains or seems disappointed with your scheduling of social outings, you must honor the time you’ve allotted for yourself, because both of you will benefit from it in the long run. Barring an emergency, a caregiver who sticks to their social schedule is more likely to feel control over their life and therefore will be less prone to feelings of helplessness and depression ².
What to Do, Who to Do it With
First and foremost, continue to do the things that you’ve always loved doing. Yes, there will be many adjustments you will need to make as a caregiver, but hanging onto the things that make you happy independent of your job are crucial for a fulfilling and purposeful life. Try a new activity every once in a while to remind yourself that despite the stressful demands of caregiving, you can still continue to grow as a person and have a future worth looking forward to. Make a point to reconnect with close friends or join a support group. Spending time with good mix of those who know you and those who can relate to what you’re going through is an extremely healthy and necessary way to properly prevent caregiver burnout and stress.