- Ann Hollander
Friends? Who has time?
If you are like most family caregivers, your social life has dropped in priority as you juggle your loved one's needs. There just aren't enough hours in the day to keep up all your friendships in addition to your family responsibilities.
It may also be that friendships are now harder to keep. Many people don't understand the pressures of caregiving. They may tire of hearing about your challenges and drift away. Or you may feel awkward talking about your concerns, rendering relationships less fulfilling. That's its own kind of loneliness.
Even if you live with the person you care for, you may feel isolated. In fact, a prepandemic report noted that 29% of family caregivers who live with their relative feel lonely, as compared to 16% of those who live separately. The social restrictions of COVID have made that isolation even more pronounced.
What you can do
Schedule regular social time on your calendar. Treat it like a prescription and guard that time fiercely. Loneliness has been shown to elevate blood pressure, interrupt sleep, and intensify depression. Its health impact has been equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Spending time with others is not just fluff. It's a health priority. Even if you have to pay a caregiver so you get time off, consider it an investment in your health.
Keep it short and convenient. Ideally, talk with at least one other person every day (besides your loved one). It doesn't have to take up a lot of time. Maybe you text a bit with a buddy. Or have a short phone call with someone who is good for some laughs. The goal is time that provides an alternative focus and genuine relief from the constant responsibilities of caring for another.
Seek quality companions. Not all contacts have to be with trusted confidants. But you do need a roster of one to three people you can call on when the going gets rough. Maybe aim to find some new friends who are family caregivers themselves (voilà, instant relatability!). Consider joining a support group. Online groups are available and many communities have in-person groups as well.
Maintain an identity beyond "family caregiver." This is important not only for your mental health now, but because "caregiver" is not a permanent position. There will be a time when you are no longer providing care. If you have given all of yourself to this task, you will be even more lost when it comes to a close. Keep up with a personal interest. And if there's a group you can join, all the better. That gives you an excuse to get out for some "me time" and a thread of continuity to carry you into the future.
Are you feeling isolated?
As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, let us assure you that you are not alone! At Options for Aging, we frequently work with family members who have cut off all contact except what is needed for the care of their relative. Understandable, but not healthy. Let us help you find time so you can reconnect with friends and your noncaregiving self. Socializing is not a luxury. Your well-being depends on it, as does the well-being of your loved one. Give us a call at 847-868-1445.