Loneliness and Isolation
Not only are studies showing that socializing can make you feel better — but plenty show that loneliness and isolation can be hazardous to your health (even though we all need a little “alone time” now and then). Adults with few social connections — especially those without spouses, close friends, family, church membership, or other group affiliations — have unusually high risks of dying at any given age. (On the other hand, having an unhappy marriage or getting divorced appears to threaten your health.)
Of course, social and emotional support may be helpful indirectly. If someone loves you, they’re likely to take care of you — scrub the toilet bowl for you, make sure that you take your meds and go to rehab, that sort of thing. Someone who loves you may also encourage you to take care of yourself: eat better, exercise, stop smoking, and so on. And just having that person around may motivate you to be better to yourself.
But even when investigators eliminate as many of these extraneous factors as possible, something about social ties alone seems to affect human health. Quite possibly, social ties help prompt the faith, hope, optimism, and other attitudes that may buffer you against stress. Evidence already suggests that strong social support alone is enough to reduce the output of stress hormones and boost the strength of immune cells (though no one — yet — has directly proved that these changes themselves make your health better).
Besides the possible health benefits that may come from company, here are some other benefits you may get from joining a support group:
- Coping skills for frustrations that come from living with a serious illness
- Ideas about new therapies and funding sources
- Assurance that you’re not alone
- A chance to turn off that “brave front” that you may maintain all day
- A chance to laugh
- A chance to cry
If you don’t have a strong support network at home, you can often find one through an organized group of people suffering from the same ailment as you are. Some groups are just a bunch of patients sitting around talking. Others are led by a doctor, nurse, or other health professional. Support groups also exist for spouses and children of people suffering from many different conditions.
If you can’t find a support group nearby, consider the many chat lines now flourishing on the Internet. You’ll find the same moral support and other benefits as in any face-to-face group.
Don’t take the advice from any support group member as gospel. However sympathetic — or even knowledgeable about a disease — no one except your personal health care practitioner is qualified to diagnose your particular condition or dispense treatment advice. But, by all means, go ask your practitioner about any good ideas you glean from the groups.