Are you feeling lonely as a caregiver? I strongly believe taking care of a loved one during times when they need it most is an honor. However being a long-term caregiver has its challenges, and feeling lonely and isolated happens to all of us. As a caregiver, feeling lonely could lead to more serious mental health issues. So let’s kick loneliness to the curb, I’ve got answers for you! Here are 5-tips on how to crush feeling lonely as a caregiver.
Before moving to Cape Cod, I lived in Los Angeles most of my adult life. It was where I danced professionally, became a nurse, and where I cemented my desire to live a healthy lifestyle for overall health and longevity. Most important California was where I raised my 3 children.
So when I moved to Cape Cod to be closer to Doug’s family and for us to be in an area of the world we love most, I definitely had bouts of feeling lonely. I basically left my entire support system in California!
But I also love adventure and new challenges, learning and building new things. And I really wanted to get Doug back to his home, and his roots.
I wasn’t in denial about his Parkinson’s or how it was going to progress. I knew I had to take big steps to rebuild my own support system here on the Cape, and it’s something I continue to work on. Perhaps we as caregivers will always work on strengthening the support we have around us.
Feeling lonely as a caregiver is normal. Heck if you think about it, many people in this world are lonely without being a caregiver. So just knowing this may help, and it can be your first step in crushing loneliness.
Feeling lonely and being socially isolated are 2 different things. They can be related but do not always go hand in hand. It’s important to be clear about where you are in this regard.
According to the National Institute on Aging, in their article Loneliness and Social Isolation – Tips for Staying Connected, lonely is feeling distress because you are alone or separated, whereas social isolation is having few people to interact with on a regular basis.
A person can be alone but not feel lonely, meaning they aren’t particularly distressed or sad about being alone. And a person can be alone but not necessarily feel socially isolated. Loneliness and social isolation don’t have to go together.
Given this information, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Loneliness versus Social Isolation: Questions to ask yourself:
- Can you determine if you are lonely, socially isolated, or both?
- If you are lonely, can you determine if it is because you feel socially isolated or perhaps for a different reason. Are you missing engaging with your partner who has PD or another chronic disease? Do you feel like no one understands?
- If you are socially isolated, does this make you feel lonely or perhaps a different feeling. Are you feeling angry, sad, frustrated – yes, yes, YES (been there).
Feelings are tricky and sometimes it is hard to separate things out. That’s okay! It’s good just to keep asking questions, and try not to judge or be too hard on yourself. We will just work on taking care of ourselves as caregivers as best we can each and every day. That is what this Parkinson’s and Us community is all about.
Let’s look at some ways to combat loneliness. Here are my 5 tips, plus 2 bonus, on how to crush feeling lonely as a long-term caregiver:
5-tips to crush feeling lonely as a caregiver (plus 2 Bonus)
- Physical activity – I believe this is one of the most important things you can do to combat all kinds of mental/emotional issues as a caregiver. Moving your body literally changes your brain chemistry in minutes, providing you with that ‘feel good’ feeling almost instantly. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Your physical activity does not have to be strenuous. Pick some sort of movement activity you like. Be it walking, hiking, running, biking, yoga, dance, weight training, pilates, swimming, stepping, rowing, gardening, mowing, etc.. Any kind of movement you find enjoyable is perfect. Just move your body!
- Your physical activity does not have to be for hours on end. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of more vigorous aerobic activity, each week. And you can break that up in any way that suits your lifestyle. 30 minutes per day for 5 days, 60 minutes for 2 days-ish, or break it up even further into 10 minute bouts throughout the course of your week. The point is anything is better than nothing, so absolutely just move, move, MOVE.
Caregivers who cannot easily get out of the house for physical activity
I know for some caregivers at this stage of their journey, getting out of the house easily is not feasible due to potentially jeopardizing the safety of your loved one.
First, I am so sorry for this hardship. I know it is not easy. I ask that you please remind yourself that what you are doing, the beautiful care you are providing for your loved one, is a gift in both directions.
You are giving your loved one the most precious gift imaginable, and that is your selfless loving support. Yet you are also receiving a gift, the gift of time with your loved one. This will always be a treasure.
After you run through that thought process several times, I want you to know there are definitely ways to be active within the home. Here are a few ideas:
Tips to be physically active in the home:
- If you have them, go up and down your steps in 10 minute bursts.
- Buy some hand-held weights to do 10-minute weight sessions. NOTE: These can be found used or second-hand pretty readily, so I’d look there first.
- YouTube has all sorts of FREE workout programs depending on what interests you. Throughout COVID I did yoga classes at home, online through YouTube, and I found it very helpful and fun!
- If you have the budget, I’d strongly consider buying a piece of cardio equipment for your home. I know they can be pricey but I don’t think you will be disappointed in the long run.
- In California I had a recumbent bicycle that I used all the time. It was so old when I finally gave it away before moving. That bike must have been over 25 years old but it was still working just fine. Now I have a treadmill, and I love it. I use it when the days here on the Cape are cold and rainy.
- NOTE: This too is a great thing to buy used. Many people tire of their workout equipment way before it breaks down, and they want to upgrade to something ‘newer and better.’ That is the best time to get a good deal!
5-Tips to Crush feeling lonely as a caregiver (continued)
- Healthy whole food – there is no doubt that eating healthy, whole, real food versus eating fatty, sugary, highly processed junk food will help boost mood and feelings of well-being.
- Eating highly processed foods causes inflammation throughout our body, which can affect our mood, and not in a good way.
- There is a two-way communication system between the gut and brain. We now know there are just as many chemical receptors in the gut, if not more, than the brain. and they help to regulate mood and emotions. So it makes sense if we feed our body junk food, we are going to have junky moods such as depression and anxiety. These mood changes can thus exacerbate feelings of loneliness.
- On the other hand, studies show that eating a healthy whole-foods diet, and avoiding processed, sugary, junk food can be protective against depression and other mood disorders.
- So eat up! But make it healthy, whole, real food. If it grew in the ground, or on a tree, it’s a whole food. If it was grown in a chemical plant, or food factory, then it most definitely is not a whole food. Make that your guide.
- Hobbies – think about starting a hobby, or restarting a hobby you once enjoyed. Even better if you do that hobby together with a friend or two. Or join a hobby club.
- For those caregivers who cannot easily leave the home, there are some really good online clubs and classes you can join these days. One good thing that came out of the pandemic was the increase of virtual learning, so I encourage you to take advantage of it.
- Schedule a chat – staying in touch with your friends and family is crucial as a caregiver, and I would make it a priority to keep those connections. If you cannot physically go out and meet your friends and family, then I would schedule a consistent time to talk each week.
- You can do this as a simple telephone call or if you want to see each other live, then you can schedule a virtual call like FaceTime or Zoom.
- You could schedule a virtual gathering to chat, have a cup of coffee or tea, and do a hobby together. Now that would be the best of both worlds …whoop!
- Join a faith-based community – this may not be for everyone but for me, joining a community where I can deepen my spirituality, engage with other people, and participate in charitable events has been a game-changer.
- COVID has brought many faith-based communities together online, so if it is difficult to leave the home due to your caregiving responsibilities, do not let that deter you.
- I know both of my church organizations, here on the Cape and back in California, started building their online community when the pandemic hit.
- BONUS TIP 1: Adopt a pet – totally an indulgence, at least for me, but the truth is animals can be an incredible comfort for some, and helpful if you are feeling lonely. I’d love a few more doggies in my home but for me it is not realistic. Perhaps it might be for you!
- BONUS TIP 2: Continue following along here at the Parkinson’s and Us community! This community was built for exactly people like us, caregivers who do experience loneliness and social isolation from time to time.
- My commitment is to build this community stronger and stronger, to help and support caregivers around the world. I would absolutely love for you to join me.
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I hope you find these tips helpful and you are able to put them to use in your life as a caregiver. If you do apply some of these tips, and you found they work for you, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear from you. Also, if you wish to see my life on Cape Cod you can always follow me on my Instagram page @dawndunkin.
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