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Comparison is the thief of joy

They say that “comparison is the thief of joy”. As carers, we may struggle to live the life we thought we would have. It can often feel like we’re missing out - or our ‘real life’ is passing us by.

This can be particularly challenging at certain times of year or key milestones. Such as watching friends jet off on summer holidays, celebrating Christmas, getting married, having children or enjoying retirement. On this page, we share some simple tools to help us feel a little better each day.

Illustration of two friends feeling good.

When we're looking after someone, we take on a lot of responsibility. So we may often put restrictions on what we can and can’t do with our lives. All of a sudden, simple things like ‘popping to the shops’ or ‘having a night out’’ become more challenging. Some of us have to quit working to keep up with the caring demands. And many of us report feelings of loneliness and a loss of friendships.

It’s no wonder that we may feel dissatisfied with ‘our lot’, leading to feelings of resentment and guilt in our caring role . Either directed at the person we care for, at ourselves or at the world in general - as we watch others ‘living their lives’ often through the lens of social media feeds.

As mentioned, certain times of the year can feel more challenging too - depending on how our lives have changed. For some of us, Christmas or other big celebrations can be tough. Particularly if we, or the person we care for, are unable to join in.

For others, we struggle with life transition points, such as watching our friends' enjoy holidays on their retirement, or children learning to drive, get partners, or go to university, while our own child may be unable to do any of these things. There are lots of moments when comparison really can steal our joy.

It's quite possible that we're also coping with some level of grief in the mix too. It can be helpful to understand our carer's grief, how it may be impacting us and tips for supporting ourselves.

What makes us feel dissatisfied with ourselves?

A good starting point is to notice the things, people, places or activities that leave us feeling a bit rubbish about ourselves or our lives. Once we’ve ‘noticed’ we then have some control over how we choose to interact… more on that below.

Some examples of when we feel ‘rubbish’ could include:

  • ‘Trying’ to keep up with ‘old’ friends (who don’t have caring responsibilities).

  • Excessive viewing of other people’s ‘highlight’ reels on social media.

“My friends all seem to be renovating their houses, while we’re adapting ours with ramps and handrails. It makes me feel so low.”

  • Not being able to attend events that we used to, e.g. Christmas drinks with friends or trips to the theatre that we used to enjoy.

  • Watching (on social media) our friends go on holiday each year.

  • Seeing friends ‘transition’ through life stages, such as ‘a relaxing retirement’ or ‘empty nesters’ enjoying ‘me time’ once their children all move out.

“Our friends have just seen all their children go off to secondary school, while we’re still in a world of nappies and total dependence. Watching them get their freedom and flexibility back can feel tough - some days we feel so stuck.”

Top tips and tools to make us feel better

By identifying what makes us feel rubbish, we can claim some power back, by deciding what to do. There are some practical actions we can take, but we can also challenge our thinking too. 😉

Illustration of a woman on her phone, looking sad and another woman in a wheelchair taking a selfie.

Some ideas to consider:

1. Limit time on social media

Simple? Many of us are guilty of doomscrolling’ - the act of endlessly scrolling and absorbing ‘news’ that is bad for us. In its truest sense, this is bad news, negative comments etc.

But in our context, it could be scrolling our friends’ feeds to see what exciting things they’ve been up to - reinforcing those negative feelings.

During the pandemic, 'doomscrolling’ was linked with higher rates of anxiety and depression. So it’s definitely something we would benefit from keeping an eye on. Read what experts say happens to our brain when we’re scrolling.

Simple ways to limit our time on social media:

  • Turn on ‘do not disturb’. This will stop new notifications from ‘pinging’. The ‘do not disturb’ function is usually within your phone’s settings. A simple google search should bring up instructions.

  • Use ‘Focus Time’ - available on Apple devices. This works the same as ‘do not disturb’. But we can choose a start and finish time, choose locations where we don’t want to receive notifications and tailor what we want our day to look like. Apple has instructions to get us started.

  • Take social media apps off of our phones. This may feel drastic, but some carers swear by it.

  • Switch off notifications. Get rid of those pesky red dots and annoying pop ups completely by switching off notifications for apps that are not important.

“Taking Facebook off my phone saved my sanity. I was sick of Facebook alerting me of posts all day long. It took a few months to stop the habit of ‘checking my phone’ but now I’m mostly in blissful ignorance and free to focus more on my own life”

2. Decide what events we can do and invite others (get creative)

Rather than being at the mercy of other people’s plans and ideas for get togethers (that seldom work for us), we could be in control. Yes, it might not be the get together we’re used to. But by being a little creative we may find something we can all do together.

“My friends like to go out for dinner every couple of months. I find it really hard to join now, so I’ve started a ‘supper club’. We typically have it at my house (as I can’t easily get out), but each month someone different provides the food - and everyone clears up!”

Other ideas carers have shared include:

  • Joining online art classes or wellbeing workshops to make new friends and enjoy activities. We can even invite our ‘IRL friends’ (In Real Life friends) to join up with us.

  • Watch shows and plays online. No it’s not the same as going to the theatre. But get some ice cream and snacks, and arrange a viewing party with friends. There are heaps of show channels available on Youtube, such as The Show must go on, and Showstoppers. You can watch together or if you’re feeling techie, you can set up an actual watch party together.

“In lockdown, my mum and my sister and I would watch the Friday night musical on YouTube, from Andrew Lloyd Webber - all from our own houses - we’d then WhatsApp call and chat throughout. It was a lot of fun.”

3. Create our own story highlights

This may sound strange when we’re talking about how ‘hard things’ feel.

But there’s some science behind it. By noticing small things we’re grateful for, that went well or perhaps were even brilliant (it can happen 😉), we can create our own ‘highlights’ story - which feels pretty awesome when we reflect back over them.

It’s really gratitude practice, with a different name.

Why not take a picture every time you notice something good. Perhaps it’s the first bluebell shoots on a walk in spring, or that perfect cup of tea in peace. Maybe it’s ‘the right decision’ from the DWP on a benefit you’ve applied for.

Perhaps it’s fresh sheets on your bed. Notice those moments. If you want to, take pictures and create your own ‘insta-like’ feed, to look back over. Those images will remind you of the good feelings you felt at the time.

4. Create an echo chamber that’s helpful

“An echo chamber is an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.” - Oxford Dictionary

Of course if those beliefs and opinions make us feel good (and aren’t damaging to others), then perhaps that’s OK. However, when we’re reinforcing negative thoughts and opinions that make us feel worse, an echo chamber can be problematic.

Echo chambers can be created in a number of ways. Through our social media usage (with algorithms set up to find us more and more content that reflects the same idea), the newspapers we read (they each have their own agenda) and the people we hang out with.

So what can we do?

  1. Notice who and where we are hanging out (both online and in real life), and if we’re in an unhelpful echo chamber.

  2. Be deliberate with who and what we follow on social media, what newspaper we read and even what friend’s we hang out with.

5. Find other ways to sooth ourselves

If we take social media as an example, it can be helpful to pause and notice what benefit we get from the scrolling. Likewise with friends - we may now have noticed that certain friends can make us feel worse about our situation - so what is the benefit of the relationship to us? There is usually some kind of trade. Once we’ve worked out the ‘benefit’ we can consider if there is a better or safer way to achieve the same thing.

For example, endless scrolling may give us some time to ‘zone out’ ‘escape’ or ‘forget our caring responsibilities’ for a while.

Now we’ve identified the benefit from the activity - what else could we do to get the same benefit?

“I swapped scrolling on social media to playing Sudoku - it allows me to forget about how difficult things are for a little while.”
“Taking up a language with Duolingo has given me something productive to do, rather than looking at Instagram or the news.”

Both of the above examples give the ‘benefit’ of ‘escapism’, but with a more positive activity for our mindset.

6. Practice gratitude

We’ve already discussed this in the context of creating our own ‘story highlights’ - a simple, practical way to better ‘notice’ the good stuff. It may be different ‘good stuff’ and it may at times feel small - but noticing it is so valuable to our overall well being.

The tough stuff is still happening, but noticing the good bits helps to provide some balance - to let some light in. And that makes us feel better.

There’s also some science to it. The more we’re aware of something, the more we notice it. So by practising gratitude and noticing those small ‘good’ things - we start to notice more and more.

This also plays the other way: The more we talk about something - the more we notice it. If we’re fixated on other people’s lives ‘moving on’ - that is what our brain will notice - everywhere!

Without gratitude practice, we run the risk of only noticing the tough stuff more and more.

“You get more of what you focus on”

And finally, remember it’s never the ‘whole picture’. Everyone has ‘stuff’ going on in their lives. The highlight reels we see are just that - highlights. It’s rare people share all the rubbish that’s going on. It’s helpful to remember this to keep some perspective.

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