How to Cope with Caregiving – The Friendship Connection

By on October 11, 2011

By:  Sherri Snelling –

It was recently National Friendship Day which I thought was a good time to talk about the power of friendships when it comes to coping with caregiving responsibilities.

We know from numerous studies that staying connected to family and friends improves your outlook and overall well-being. However, caregiving can sometimes become an isolating event – you may cancel social activities because you are simply overwhelmed and do not have the time to squeeze in your “pre-caregiving” activities such as lunch with a friend. This in turn leads to frustration, anger, depression and increased stress – all things that can impact your health and wellness. When we take on the responsibility of caring for a loved one it is not often a “joyous” event such as learning you are pregnant – this is not news we excitedly tell our friends. But, this is a time when we need to reach out to family and friends and create that “circle of care” both for our loved one and for ourselves.

“I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” – The Beatles

I came across the recent Age Lessons Boomer Social Media Study which showed that Boomers caring for an older parent rely on the Internet, and social media in particular, for emotional support and practical suggestions. The study, which surveyed the online habits of 3.8 million caregivers, showed that Boomer caregivers spend on average 150 minutes per person per month viewing more than 1,000 Facebook pages – 70 percent more time and more pages than the average Internet user. In fact, Facebook was the top site to reach Boomer caregivers (91%) according to the study by Age Lessons, a multi-generational consulting firm.

In addition, a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, illuminates how friendships can impact and even revolutionize our lives. In the book, it talks about how friends can hold sway over us (and us over them) in both good and bad ways – and that this influence can extend to” three degrees of friendship.” One statistic I found intriguing was that having a “first-degree” friend who is happy increases the likelihood of your happiness factor by 15 percent.

Tips on Creating Caregiver Friendship Connections

So what does all this mean if you are a caregiver with precious little time to stay engaged and active with friends? It could be the difference between maintaining your own health, stamina and attitude that is vital to continuing to care for your loved one and care for yourself or simply giving in to the ongoing stress which can lead to chronic illness or even clinical depression. Here are three tips to try:

  1. Create your personal “board of advisors.” If you approach caregiving as you would a career or project, there are people in your circle of friends who have expertise in different areas. For instance, one friend might be great at time management and can help you better organize your days to find some “me time” even amidst all the caregiving you may be doing. Another friend may be a lawyer or accountant and can give you good advice on what to think about for both your loved ones and your own documentation and paperwork. Once you start telling friends about your caregiving situation, if they are true and good friends, they’ll want to help in any way they can.  If you are willing to accept help, it is out there.
  2. Go online. Whether it is commiserating with other caregivers in a similar situation or finding great tips on how to handle a caregiving task or find a resource – the online communities particularly on Facebook or Web site forums can be a lifeline. One of the best Web-based communities for caregivers is Lotsa Helping Hands. It allows caregivers, or a friend of a caregiver, to create a private community where other friends and family can volunteer to help the caregiver. The functionality includes a sophisticated but simple-to-use calendaring task function and a resource button for valuable additional areas of help. This site really answers that question that all friends of caregivers ask, “what can I do to help?” The answers are in each of the more than 40,000 caregiver communities created on this site.
  3. How R U? Make a point of touching base with at least one friend a week. Even if it is just a text or a quick phone call – it will make you feel that you are not alone. And, if you know a caregiver – make a point of reaching out just to say “hi” – the power of connection is like an elixir when we are feeling down or overwhelmed. Sending a quick message of support, encouragement or even a funny joke or photo will lift the spirit of your friend who is caring for a loved one.

The power of friendships can be one of your best tools when it comes to coping with caregiving.

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is executive producer and host or the cable TV caregiving series Handle With Care and co-producer of the Silvers Summit conference at the Consumer Electionics Show. You can find more information at:  http://www.caregivingclub.com/.

©2011 Sherri Snelling

About Sherri Snelling

Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is executive producer and host of a new caregiving TV series, Handle with Care on RLTV and co-producer of the Silvers Summit at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Sherri is a consultant, media contributor, and frequent guest speaker on the nation’s Baby Boomers and their caregiving role as the “The Sandwich Generation.” Website: www.caregivingclub.com

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How to Cope with Caregiving – The Friendship Connection