A Social Caregiver = A Healthy Caregiver

Human beings thrive on relationships and interaction with fellow human beings is essential for survival no matter how busy they are. Caregivers tend to get trapped into a “selfless” cycle where they devote their entire time and energy being with or around the care-receiver. But taking a break is important for the caregiver for their well-being and the ability to sustain care. I’m not saying that devoting time to the care-receiver is wrong or that it should be reduced. All I’m saying is that staying in touch with old friends and making new ones—those that you connect with and can entrust your concerns with—are crucial to the caregivers’ emotional, mental and physical state.

Here are some of the benefits of socializing for caregivers underpinned by the stress they experience:

Distraction and Motivation: When caregivers engage with people for a bit, they are bound to put aside their worries and concerns even if for just a while. Their energies are diverted to a completely different context, activity or role. If the caregiver is painting, art becomes their focus, while conversing, the subject matter gains attention. This is an essential practice for keeping caregivers’ depression and isolation at bay. But more than distraction, being social decreases feelings of loneliness a caregiver might experience. It makes the caregiver believe that there are others (friends, relatives or close family members) who care about them and enjoy their company. This is because socialising produces a particular hormone in the body that decreases anxiety, thereby enabling them to become more confident in dealing with stressors, making one calmer in their approach. Energy is spent outwards rather than inwards, promoting a sense of security and belongingness.

In addition, motivation and stress are counters. Having a positive outlook on life,  and setting goals that are achievable and yet higher, will imbibe a sense of motivation, that will help manage stress by promoting personal responsibility.

Healthy Immune System: Surprisingly, social engagement and a healthy immune system go hand in hand. Sometimes negativity, which includes worrying about the patient’s health conditions or finances, can rev up inner bodily functions. Research by Harvard Medical School (2010) suggests that interacting with family and friends and participating in workplace activities enables the body to cope better, while the lack of such a strong support system adversely affects the immune system, the coronary arteries and the regulation of the insulin.

Research by psychologists hypothesizes two dominant social support models:

  1. Direct-effects hypothesis: This hypothesis states that social support always contributes to better health and wellness, irrespective of the fact that the caregiver is experiencing stress.
  2. Buffering hypothesis: According to the buffering hypothesis, social support’s benefits on the health and well-being of the caregiver are maximised when the caregiver is experiencing stress. The support system acts as a buffer or a protective layer between the person and the stressful event they are experiencing.

Both hypothesis’ hint at the same conclusion—a social support system in times of stress or otherwise, inadvertently benefits the health and well-being of a person.

Sound Sleep!:We all know the necessity of sleep for being physically and mentally fit. A good, sound sleep helps the caregiver feel energised and motivated. They are also more skillful in dealing with newer challenges. The research paper “Social relationships and sleep quality”(December 2015), indicates that social relationships and the social support system is directly related to the quality of sleep. If a caregiver has positive relationships with family and friends, then they have better quality of sleep. If the caregiver is socially active, then the risk of sleeplessness, due to loneliness, isolation, and sleep fragmentation, is reduced.

Better Quality Of Life: Human beings’ inherent social nature is critical to lead a better quality of life. Caregivers often experience caregiver burnout—a state of emotional, physical and mental “emptiness”.It is more of a necessity to socialize with friends and family rather than an indulgence as is sometimes felt. Socialisation is mandatory in order to lead an emotionally and spiritually fruitful life, thereby allowing one to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities. Caregiver’s may experience such burnout without realising it. It is usually because caregiver’s are putting in more effort than they can physically,emotionally or otherwise. It is more than normal to ask someone for help—putting someone in charge of the care-receiver while they rejuvenate, replenish and obtain a balance to live optimally.

Benefit Of Social Context In Exercise: Research by University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine suggests that the context in which an individual exercises visibly affects their efficiency and outcome. The report asserts that an individual exercising with a group is found to benefit more—mentally, physically and emotionally—than in an individual workout. This is makes exercising in groups a two-fold solution for caregivers. Firstly, they are able to take care of their physical health by exercising regularly. Secondly and most importantly, exercising in a group gives access to a support system that they interact with regularly for elements other than caregiving as well!

Avoiding Depression: Caregiver Depression is manifested by withdrawal from social connects, difficulty in making new friends or excessively using social media. Depression by itself is a fight that needs to be actively fought. It is necessary for caregivers to know that they are important to others, be accessible to their social networks or merely give themselves permission to laugh. Just meeting old friends will not only increase self-esteem (that may have been flat lined), but would also reduce stress and anxiety. According to the William James Prize awarded psychologist, Susan Pinker, in-person interaction releases a cascade of neurotransmitters that protects a person. For instance, merely shaking hands or giving a high five to someone releases oxytocin which increases trust and decreases cortisol levels which helps reduce stress.

Getting Practical Help: Joining a support group for caregivers can be incredibly utilitarian beyond just the social connect. Three aspects that make a positive difference to the caregiver are that it will reduce feeling isolated, help connect better to get emotional support from others facing similar circumstances and  emotions by openly communicating and voicing their feelings, as well as, practical learning from others’ experiences.

 Socialising helps caregivers to recharge their batteries. It is simple in the sense that it does not involve anything extravagant in terms of sidelining the care-receiver. Caregivers should add this to their “To-Do” list as a necessity and stop thinking of it as a guilty pleasure.

Taking up a new activity class (e.g.: cooking or computer classes), enrolling for a workshop, scheduling a call with a long-distance friend, and participating in local cultural events are some ways of how you can put socialisation on your agenda. Read more about the “How” of engaging with old and new friends and getting involved in activities here.

About The Author

Miloni Shah

I graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai with a degree in English Literature and then completed an MA in Writing at the University of Warwick. I have been a journalist, an assistant teacher, a content writer at a PR agency and a travel writer and have come to the realisation that I like writing fiction and nonfiction that expose the different aspects of society.
You can follow me on Instagram @theflaneur.96 that explores the world of books and witnesses the ordinary in the extraordinary.”

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