Each caregiver, at some point during the caregiving journey face the crippling issue of isolation. Sadly, for some caregivers, isolation becomes an unchanging way of life.
In a recent article in the Washington Post, the reporter discussed a British survey of retired individuals and the impact of social engagement on their lifespan.
But people who were members of social groups — which could be a sports club, religious organization, trade union or any other kind of leisure or professional group — had a lower risk of death in the first six years of retirement. Those who belonged to two groups before retirement and continued their activity in these groups had a 2 percent risk of death in the first six years. Washington Post 2-16-2016
This study affirms the positive impact of social connectivity on human lifespan, and going even further, on quality of life. Isolation is one of the most crippling long-term issues facing caregivers, and it leads to poor thinking, poor judgment, and poor behavior.
Isolation often occurs due to logistics. Sometimes, it is not possible or practical for the caregiver to transport the loved one outside the home. Other times, caregivers, embarrassed about the condition of their loved ones, or wishing to protect their dignity, remove themselves from the public eye.
There are many reasons for the isolation that caregivers feel, but the results are universally negative. Without positive human connections, everybody suffers. That’s why it’s important for care-givers to remain engaged in church, community, and other social networks. And, since caregivers can often feel lonely in a crowded room, it’s important not only to attend but also to engage. – From HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER ©2014 Peter W. Rosenberger
Pushing back against the isolation of caregiving is paramount for a caregiver. But where do you start? In the previous blog about Caregiver Landmine #1 (Ignoring personal healthy needs), I discussed the critically important first step of seeing a physician. That’s as good a place to start as any. Having a medical professional seeing us as a caregiver opens the door to additional conversations such as the need for support groups and counseling.
Going further, we as caregivers need positive interaction. If we push back against isolation, but hang around unhealthy individuals who bring us down emotionally or morally, we’re not helping ourselves.
I recently heard a great quote: “If you hang around 5 positive people, you will be the 6th. If you hang around five negative people, you’ll be the 6th. If you hang around 5 idiots, you will be the 6th.”
When we become isolated, our own dark thoughts take us down—often quickly. To best fight that, we need to surround ourselves with healthy, positive individuals. Sometimes it is as simple as a Facebook group, but that can only go so far. Regular phone conversations, regular face-to-face conversations, and when possible, group events, serve as the path towards pushing back against isolation.
We may have to start slow, and not pin all our hopes on one individual, one phone call, or one encounter. Given that isolation often makes our hearts feel parched as if we have struggled through a hot desert with no water, we can be tempted to “guzzle” human contact. Any expert will tell you that when dehydrated, we need to sip water slowly and give our bodies a chance to hydrate properly.
The same thing applies to interaction. Let’s don’t make people drink from the firehose and hear every gruesome detail of our journey as a caregiver. Speaking slowly, deliberately, and calmly will ease us into a healthy engagement with others. Also, we can listen to others, as well.
The second caregiver landmine is isolation. Avoiding this landmine requires a deliberate action on our part to reach out to others. Here are three steps to take today.
- Think of three people who you can trust. Pick up the phone, and call them (one at a time …don’t conference call! LOL). A heavy conversation isn’t necessary—just “sip” the friendship slowly.
- See a counselor. Whether or psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or licensed mental health counselor, it is critically important to involve a professional mental health expert in your journey.
- Find a support group in your area. Maybe your doctor, pastor, or counselor can recommend one, or simply look one up online. Virtually every disease or impairment has a support group attached to it, and you can find more by simply going online. If nothing is in your area, try going outside the box a bit and attending a local al-anon twelve-step group. You may not be able to go as much as you would like, but you can go as much as you can.
Loneliness was the first thing that God’s eye named “not good.” John Milton