Caregivers play a vital role in any community, but their own struggles and challenges often go overlooked. If you’re the primary caretaker for an aging relative, you probably devote almost all of your time to your caregiving responsibilities. While this can be a meaningful and rewarding job, it can also be emotionally draining if you have no support for yourself. Caregiver support is essential for anyone who provides full-time care for an aging or sick individual. You should know the value of social support for caretakers, what caregiver support looks like, and how you can ensure that you’re receiving enough support that your caretaking job is healthy and sustainable.
Caregiving and Social Isolation
One of the most common and painful challenges caretakers face is social isolation. Caregiving is a 24-hour responsibility. If you don’t have consistent support or access to respite care, you might find that you sacrifice your own opportunities to socialize because you need to care for your loved one. Even when you know that this isn’t a sustainable approach, you may feel like you don’t have any other options.
No matter how much you love the person you’re caring for, spending all of your time with only one individual will not help you meet your social needs. So many caregivers report feeling isolated as a result of their job. This loneliness can lead to extreme stress, anxiety, depression, or anger.
Socialization is also key in helping you maintain your sense of identity outside of your caregiver role. If you spend all of your time taking care of your loved one, you may start to lose your sense of self. Instead, it’s important that you maintain a variety of personal relationships so that you have a full and complex understanding of who you are.
The Importance of Empathy for Caregivers
Any form of social interaction and social support can be valuable for caregivers, but social connection with other caretakers is particularly meaningful. Caring for an aging or sick relative is a unique challenge, but other caregivers understand the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of the job. Connecting with those who can empathize with your experiences is essential for your own mental health.
Everyone needs to feel understood, but few people can truly empathize with the experiences of a full-time caregiver. Social connection with people who relate to your situation helps you feel less alone. Knowing that others have the same emotions and the same struggles can be so validating.
When you connect with a support network of people in similar situations to yours, you can express yourself without fear of judgment. You know that these people are navigating the same circumstances, so you don’t feel like you have to explain yourself or justify how you feel. This sense of camaraderie can have powerful mental and emotional benefits, so it’s vital that all full-time caregivers have at least some connection to other caretakers.
Forms of Social Support
Social support for caregivers can take on a variety of forms, so it’s best to receive support from multiple sources. Most caretakers find that they need a combination of emotional and practical support from those around them.
Sometimes, you need someone to listen to your struggles and empathize with your emotions. You might not want them to do anything but listen and validate. In other cases, though, you may desperately need support with physical tasks. For example, you may feel so overwhelmed with your caregiving responsibilities that you need a friend to run an errand, cook a meal, or help with chores around the home.
Some people feel much more comfortable having open, honest discussions about emotions than others. Certain friends or family members might run away from an emotional conversation, but they’re happy to reduce your stress by completing some tasks on your to-do list. Receiving both emotional and practical support is the best way to manage the responsibilities of caregiving while maintaining your mental health.
How to Find Social Support as a Caregiver
Finding and tapping into your support resources as a caregiver can be difficult. Some people have an extensive network of family, friends, and neighbors they can reach out to when they need support. If you already have people in your life who you believe can offer support, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Many people worry about placing a burden on others when they ask for help, but your loved ones want to offer support. No one can manage full-time caregiving without any assistance and reaching out to close friends or family for help benefits everyone involved.
Caregiver support groups can also be a valuable resource and an opportunity to connect with people who understand your experiences. Support group meetings provide a chance for you to express yourself and develop healthy coping skills for stress. Other caretakers may have powerful advice that you can apply to your own life.
You don’t have to only seek out support resources that are specifically meant for caretakers. Engaging in hobbies and social activities that are completely separate from caregiving can help you maintain your sense of self outside of the caretaker role. You could join a club, take a class, or schedule regular outings with friends so that you get a break from caregiving.
You can find professional support resources in your area by reaching out to your local senior center or to your state’s Medicaid office. Many caregivers are able to access respite care, which gives them a much-needed break from full-time caregiving. Additionally, you may be able to reduce your burden by accessing resources for transportation, in-home nursing support, or meal preparation.
The importance of caregiver support cannot be overstated. Caretakers are used to sacrificing their own needs, but you shouldn’t burn yourself out to care for your loved one. By accessing social support resources, you commit to protecting your own mental and emotional health.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults facing anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness, and other mental health concerns. If you or a loved one is interested in counseling for seniors, you can reach out to us today.