Isolation and loneliness are feelings caregivers often have, and can be caused by withdrawal from previous surroundings and lifestyles or when caregivers are left alone in their caregiving duties. Caregivers without support from others in similar situations may feel as though no one really understands their situation. Although the activities caregivers perform often limit their time, which causes some isolation, the feeling can lead to further withdrawal from social activities and relationships they previously enjoyed. It is possible that some caregivers may literally be facing isolation.
The stress of feeling alone can also lead to unexpected physical side effects such as severe psychological injuries, diabetes, stroke, or even premature death. Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation. Isolation increases the feelings of loneliness and depression, fear of other people, or even a more negative self-image. Not all caregivers will experience serious physical and emotional effects, but even the slightest feeling can have a significant impact on your overall well-being.
The best way to combat isolation and loneliness is to make time in your caregiving routine to focus on taking care of yourself with some sort of social interaction to build relationships. Social relationships benefit health with their supportive nature by encouraging health-promoting behaviors and discouraging health-damaging behaviors. It is important to maintain your sense of self and participate in activities that make you feel renewed. Respite care can allow a caregiver to focus on their own personal needs without worrying about the safety of their care recipient. Support groups or online support forums with common ground for caregivers in similar situations is another good way to interact. When you are lonely, you lose impulse control and become less concerned with interactions and more concerned with self-preservation. Involvement in your own interests may help you feel connected to your sense of self and help keep you in touch with your friends and loved ones.
-by Nicole Bruno, Community Educator