How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Social Isolation for Caregivers

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A woman looking out a window alone - How to avoid the Pitfalls of Social Isolation for Caregivers

As a parent caregiver to a child with chronic brain cancer, I have experienced more than my share of social isolation due to medical circumstances outside of my control.  I know how it feels to be forced to into lockdown and then process that such a drastic precautionary measure is necessary to protect my medically complex child from contagious illnesses that might threaten her health and safety.  It is a scary and stressful situation to be in no matter what the reason.

Mandatory social distancing is uniquely challenging. As a family, you no longer have the freedom to come and go as you please or to exercise discretion over which social interactions hold more benefit than danger. The social opportunities you rely on for respite and restoration are denied to you while, at the same time, you are acutely aware that they continue on in your absence.

Missed experiences and prolonged isolation can result in feelings of deep loss, sadness, and resentment. Under such extreme circumstances, it is normal to want to put your head down and just do what it takes to endure. However, giving in to this temptation can cause you to make choices that undermine your own well-being and limit your ability to effectively care for your family.

Below, are several examples of how mandatory social distancing can negatively affect the well-being of parent caregivers and the proactive steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls of social isolation.


Feeling Like You Are Not Enough:

More than anything else, you need to know that you are equipped to handle any challenge this situation throws at you. You know your family better than anyone. Trust your gut, and yourself, enough to be confident in the decisions you make for them, under these circumstances. 

People like to have opinions and they like to share them, whether they are invited to or not.  Don’t let anyone else tell you that your instincts are wrong or that your motivations are selfish or irrational.


Feeling Like You Need to do All of the Things:

When you are confined to your house, with your whole family, you may be feeling the pressure to take care of all the things. The demands on your time and resources are never ending and, when you can’t leave the house, they are staring you down all the time. 

Know that it is OK to just do the best you can, right now. Your best is all you, or anyone else, can expect.  It is OK to just meet your child(ren)’s basic needs. They do not need elaborate family dinners or constant engagement, with you.  You do not need to purge your household in a massive fit of deep cleaning.  It is OK to just keep your home livable, right now.

The trouble with trying to do it all, is that you are not able to give your best to any one thing. As a result, you end up putting in a lot of effort without making progress in anything.  Choose one or two areas to prioritize, during this time of social isolation, and let all of the other expectations fall away. Giving yourself grace to only do what is most important, will go a long way in allowing you to avoid the pitfalls of social isolation.


Not Prioritizing Rest:

The extreme circumstance of social isolation takes its toll. You may be working physically harder as you meet the demands of caring for your family and keeping your kids occupied and safe. At the same time, necessary social distancing makes it is harder, if not impossible, to reach out to others for support.  

Social isolation may require that you take on new roles, for your child’s care, that you usually depend on professionals to meet.  You might be faced with important decisions that are significant and draining. The stress and anxiety you are feeling has significant effects on your physical endurance as well. 

Always, listen to your body. If you are feeling tired and rundown it is OK to take the time you need to rest and restore your energy.  Do not feel guilty about sleeping a little longer or taking a nap when you need it. You will feel better if you maintain a consistent bedtime and wake time and make sure to allow yourself enough sleep per night to adequately recharge.


Emotional Eating:

When you are not on your regular schedule and confined to your home, it can be very tempting to eat whenever you feel like it and to grab what is convenient, not necessarily what is good for you. 

It is also very common to use comfort foods to sooth your anxieties and provide temporary relief.  It can be tempting to drown your fears and worries in the nearest sugary treat or alcoholic beverage.  Neither are solutions that will serve you well in the long run.

It is important to keep track of what you are eating and how often.  This helps to avoid the pitfalls that come from over eating out of boredom and stress. You don’t need to write down everything you eat. You just need to have a general idea of how often you’re eating, and whether you are actually hungry when you do. Also, pay attention to whether you are maintaining a balanced diet.  It’s OK to have a treat here or there but if most of what you are eating is junk food, you are going to regret it later.  Being mindful of what is going into your body, and when, will help you make better choices.


Avoiding Physical Activity:

When you are hunkered down in social isolation, it is so easy to fall back on the easy distractions of screen time. Social media, movies, and video games are all great ways to pass the time when you are homebound. However, they also make it very easy to look up and find you haven’t moved off the couch for several hours at a time. 

Physical activity is a great way to avoid the pitfalls of social isolation. Exercise relieves stress and anxiety, two huge side effects of isolation.  It also helps to promote energy, productivity, and mental clarity while also promoting restful sleep. There are so many positive benefits of physical activity, and yet it is such a challenge for most of us to make it a part of our everyday routine. 

Think about physical activities that you enjoy and can be done while at home, or near home. Be creative. Exercise does not have to fall into the traditional fitness routine. Walking the dog, gardening, yard games and deep cleaning are all activities that provide physical exercise.  When you are limited in your flexibility and mobility, it is best to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. Every little bit helps. Do what you can!


Spending Too Much Time Inside:

Social isolation does not have to mean that you have to stay indoors. Under some circumstances this may be true but, generally speaking, even someone who is hindered by a complex condition will benefit greatly from natural light and fresh air.

Time spent outdoors has the potential to improve your mood, by minimizing feelings of anxiety and stress. Time outside can even promote healing. Sunlight increases your production of Vitamin D which supports immunity. Exposure to sunlight also increases serotonin levels, which boosts energy. 

Commit to spending some time outside, each day while socially isolated. Set an alarm to remind you to take a break from your indoor activities. Make sure you spend enough time outside to get some fresh air and exposure to natural light. Combine your time outdoors with some physical exercise to get the most impact for your efforts.


Forgetting To Take Care Of Yourself:

When you have nowhere to go, it is easy to let your daily self-care routine get off track. Instead of getting ready at the same time every morning, you might be leaving that opportunity up to chance.  This means other care rituals might be ignored as well.

Staying consistent with your daily self-care routine will make you feel better, even if you never leave the house. Feeling put together and presentable will motivate you to reach out and connect with family and friends, clients and coworkers and maintain those social connections.  You may also feel more motivated to get outside, in your neighborhood, even if you won’t be in close contact with anyone.

Avoid the pitfalls of social isolation by continuing to get ready for your day, just as you would normally, even if you don’t plan to leave the house. The more consistent you are with your self-care routine, the easier it will be to continue when this period of isolation is lifted.


Not Reaching Out For Social Interaction:

We are created to be social creatures. It is very difficult to be separated from those you love and enjoy spending time with, especially when you are unsure how long that period of social distancing will last. It is impossible to remain socially isolated for an extended period of time and not have it affect your mental and emotional health.

Allow yourself to experience your feelings of loss and disappointment over the events and gatherings you are missing out on. Expressing that disappointment is not the same as complaining about it.  These feelings are real and significant and deserve expression and communication. Acknowledging our feelings is how you begin to process them.

We live in a time were technology makes it easier than ever to see and interact with loved ones, in real time. There are all kinds of ways to stay connected, from old fashioned snail mail to video conferencing. Choose your favorite method of long-distance communication and a few people you want to stay connected with during this time.  Practice using this platform to stay connected with your chosen circle. The more you use it, the easier it will be to expand the circle of friends and family you connect with, in this way, later on.


Ignoring Your Mental And Emotional Wellness:

When at home with your family, for days, or weeks, at a time it is very difficult to find the space to focus on your own well-being. You need to have the opportunity to decompress and relax. It is not realistic to maintain an effective level of function without having an opportunity to regroup and recharge.

You can make time for you, by creating a quiet space in your home, as your own personal sanctuary. While in this space, spend your time taking a mental break from your daily demands. Listen to music, meditate, pray, read or listen to a book to find distraction.  Avoid spending all of your alone time on social media, which often opens us up to more unsettling news that fuels our worries and stress. You want to give yourself a break from these triggers.

For some of us, conversation is the best way to process our worries and emotions. If this is true for you, make sure to talk to someone about the mental and emotional struggles of your current circumstances. Do not let the restrictions of social isolation keep you from reaching out to a friend or family member for support.

If you find yourself struggling to cope on your own, it is time to reach out to a professional to provide the tools and strategies and/or medications you may need to better manage your circumstances. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is talk to someone who is not at all invested in our situation, so that we can talk openly and freely about what is really causing us pain. Our brains are in need of as much care as the rest of our bodies. There are amazing psychological and neurological treatments available, that you would never imagine or have access to, without the help of a professional. I can personally attest to that!


Losing Your Motivation:

When there is so much to do, it can all feel so daunting that we just don’t know where to start.  We feel our motivation slip away.

However, the longer we wait to take action, the bigger the problem becomes and the harder it gets to overcome it. Sometimes, our hesitation is justified but most of the time it is a matter of looking for reasons to be motivated. The good news is that there are several ways we can ignite our motivation.

When I am struggling to find the energy and motivation to take on a task, I try to find a resource that inspires me to think about that task in a positive way. For example, I might listen to a podcast that presents a new perspective or a book that tells an uplifting story. Perhaps it is a magazine spread that inspires my creativity and gets me excited about a new project.  The point is, when you can’t find the spark from within, you can seek an outside source of motivation to get you started.

Often, all it takes to get us over the hump is to see that hurdle from a new perspective. When that happens, we suddenly see the circumstances in front of us with a fresh mindset. Armed with a new strategy, we feel empowered to overcome challenges that, before, just felt too overwhelming.


Self-care is certainly one of those overwhelming challenges.  We tend to see self-care as a burden, another thing on our already too long “to do” list. The truth is self-care is the means by which we stay connected to our Parachute; the people, places, things, activities and experiences, that lift us up and help us to better carry the weight of our circumstances.

Mandatory isolation can be scary and overwhelming in a way that is unlike anything you have experienced before. It is normal and natural to experience increased stress and anxiety as you adjust to these unusual circumstances. However, you can avoid the pitfalls of social isolation by taking small, intentional action to keep your daily routines as consistent as possible. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to get back to business as usual when social restrictions are lifted.



Self-Care Action Discussed in This Post:

Choose just one of the pitfalls of social isolation discussed in this post to consider more deeply. What is one self-care action you can put into practice, in your current circumstances, that will help to minimize the negative  impact this particular pitfall has on your well-being?



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