Loneliness can be a common experience for carers, prioritising their responsibilities meaning that they often can’t get out and socialise as much as they need to for their own wellbeing. Even when they get the opportunity to take a break they can sometimes find others isolate them through not understanding their situation; for example finding that they don’t get invited to social opportunities anymore because they’ve had to turn them down in the past, or arrive late and leave early due to their commitments.
However self-sufficient we believe we are, we all need some social interaction to maintain a healthy view of ourselves and of life. We often rely on our social relationships to remind us that we have worth in society and are valued. Reduced social stimulation or total social isolation can have a significant effect on our physical and mental heath. Those who experience loneliness or social isolation in childhood are much more likely to remain so through their teens and into adulthood without intervention.
Don’t isolate yourself – Easier said than done if your a carer and when you’re feeling lonely already it can be hard to think about trying to engage with other people; however keeping your own company may only make the problem worse, so make the effort to take the opportunities on offer. The problem with loneliness or social isolation is that there’s nobody around to challenge your negative self-image or to encourage self-belief. You have no reality checks, you only have your own view of yourself.
Keep yourself busy – Though it may be the last thing you want to do if your caring keeps you always on your feet or feeling isolated, you could try joining a club, a sports team, a choir or another group that interests you, where you can meet people who share your own interests. If you join a group where the activity is meaningful for you, and you enjoy it, chances are it will bring out the best in you. If you feel good while you’re engaged in that activity, it will help you feel more connected to the people around you because you have this one thing in common. If you can’t fit in a leisure activity then maybe a support group would be most useful, such as the ones run by SCAFT or other specialist organisations; here you’ll have the opportunity to meet others in a similar situation and maybe you won’t feel so strongly that you’re the only one, as well as have a chance to build a network of social contacts who understand what you’re going through.
Be kind to yourself – If you’re really lonely, you may be fearful of letting people get close. Learn to love yourself! Fixing a negative view of yourself takes a lot of gentle self-care and nurturing and that may mean gently correcting ways of thinking you learned as a child. If your past experience included frequent neglect or criticism you need to turn that around, you need to start treating yourself differently. You could even be experiencing this kind of negative image reinforcement now, as part of your caring role, for example from a relative with dementia. The biggest challenge is to treat yourself well when you aren’t feeling good about yourself. Being happier with yourself will make it easier to reach out to others.
Find someone to reach out to – Whether it’s a friend, a family member or a counsellor, finding someone to talk to about your situation can make a huge difference. It’s probably the biggest challenge, but it’s the most healing thing you can do for yourself. Our cultural stigma around loneliness makes the condition hard to talk about, but keeping your feelings hidden may leave you feeling worse. When you feel bad about yourself, that’s when you need to hear a different message about yourself. You need to hear from someone else that you matter and that you are worthy.