Being social: An important element of caregiver wellbeing

You are a caregiver and your life revolves around that of a chronically or terminally ill family member. You worry if you can take a break while knowing that you NEED to take a break. You often experience occasional bouts of fear that you are missing out on gatherings and social events but your life is filled with complexities and challenges. You love your family member and you would do anything to take care of them. But sporadically, you might feel that “Hey! Maybe I can meet my friend or a colleague for lunch!” or “I want to watch the new movie.” These feelings are completely valid and there is no reason to feel guilty for having these thoughts but well, you still do!

Isolating yourself is not a healthy activity and inevitably if we focus only on the responsibilities of caregiving then that leaves us isolated too. Being with the patient can involve worrying about their schedule, whether their food is prepared correctly, arranging their doctor’s appointment, giving the right medicines at the right time, making proper arrangements for their sanitation etc., and all that takes a toll on you. You are involved in this process for weeks at a stretch without thinking about yourself, thinking it to be an altruistic act, but you are also isolating yourself from everything. The consequences of closing yourself off from everyone around you, will, in the end, be faced not only by you but also by your loved one.

The solution to isolation is socialising.

You may think that you are socialising with your friends, family, and relatives on a daily basis by means of applications like Facebook and WhatsApp. But this is just not enough. Merely passing on messages and tagging each other in posts doesn’t mean that you are holding a real conversation. In many ways these technologies actually inhibit the positive aspects of socialising.  As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love said, “Never is it more important than to leave your home and to go face to face, not on the internet, but in the flesh and meet people who are not the same as you.”

It is important to go out and meet people in person. Being social is essential for your well-being. Social connections provide you with a comfort that is both emotional and physical at the same time, both in the good and the bad times. We, as humans, thrive on our relationships- be it with family, a co-worker or friends.

As Caregiver Specialist and Coping Strategist, Eleanor Silverberg, in her video “Care for the Caregivers: Relieving Tension- Finding Balance- Staying Socially Engaged” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9VZDnu3mas says, “… they are experiencing a gamut of emotions, and it is an advantage to you to relieve tension and to acknowledge the feeling. That can be difficult for people who repress or are not in touch with what they are feeling.” No matter how emotionally strong you are, everyone at some point, wants to share their feelings and get a different perspective on their life from someone they trust. Hence, it is necessary to get a fresh perspective and in turn retain your individuality.

Relieving stress is not a luxury for caregivers. It is essential for everyone to take a break from their normal routine in order to function well, and if you are a caregiver, then your job is all the more emotionally overwhelming. You need to find ways to channel the negative emotions that may surface and put them to good use, in order to avoid care-receivers from feeling guilty.

Here are some ways to take short breaks. Take these to rejuvenate, maintain personal bonds and connections and ensure that your broader life purpose is not lost while you’re a caregiver:

  1. Take an activity class: Learn a new language, art or a new dance form or take up computer classes, or a master class in a cooking course. Learning new things will make you feel better. Invest in something that you are eager to learn and in the process you will meet like-minded people who will inspire you to work towards your goal. This will enable you to channel your energies into something creative and productive at the same time. Classes are usually available for as short a duration as 1-2 hours a week.
  2. Schedule a call: In this technology dominated world, many times, it becomes difficult to talk to a person because of busy, overlapping schedules. Plan the social call with your friend who lives on the other side of the globe- country or city. Try and arrange for a video call. Seeing a person, although virtually, can do wonders to your spirits and help you relieve stress even when you are at home. Even the care-receiver can be a part of this call and feel refreshed by seeing someone else. Avoid a video-call with someone who lives a short distance from you, instead ensure that you meet them in person.
  3. Become a member of a club: Become an active member in a neighbourhood book club or music club. This will motivate you to practice your own music or do your own reading. Parks and gardens usually have adults of different age groups meeting in the evening for some time. This can be a welcome change and a good chance to meet new people from your locality. Socialisation by itself removes you from the drudgery of your routine and places you in a different environment which allows you to get out of the monotony. The mental activity serves as a distraction and the addition of a new activity serves as a source of rejuvenation.
  4. Attend a workshop: Enroll yourself for workshops and seminars in art or cooking or marketing. They are usually for a day or two and for a few hours. You can make arrangements in advance for someone to fill in your shoes at home so that you can learn something you want. It might seem like a daunting task but this will help you in moving forward and working towards something successful. It is essential that you attend classes in person rather than opting for distance-learning so that you learn in an interactive set-up.
  5. Playing sports: Sports are no doubt the perfect way to get rid of stress. Choose a particular game that you are good at or one which you would like to learn. If hardcore sports are not your thing then take up yoga and meditation. There are so many ways of calming your mind and burning away the stress. Staying focused mentally and physically is a good path to choose. These activities take place in groups and will put you in a social setting.
  6. Getting active in cultural events: Actively participate in the organisation of events for cultural festivals like Holi or Ganpati. You can take up small tasks like decorating the place or arranging for flowers. It will put you in touch with people from your community and you will be more involved with them.
  7. Take a short day-break: Spend a few hours with a friend. Plan it out so that you have someone at home to handle your responsibilities- during the day watch a new movie at the cinema, try out a new restaurant or simply take a walk in the garden. Getting out of the same old routine and doing something different will refresh your mind. Spend this time with your friend, get to know them and exchange views on the different aspects of life. It will also give you some space from your family member and allow you to come back with more energy and enthusiasm.

These are ways in which you will successfully be able to divert your mind and do something you enjoy. Such activities will give you a chance to refresh your mind, rejuvenate your thinking and enable you to be more objective and balanced when navigating through tough decisions.

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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