Build a Support System to Fight Arthritis
Build a strong social support network to improve your overall health and well-being.
By: Jennifer Cuthbertson
Being surrounded by people who understand you, make you feel loved and supported, and who will help out in a pinch is important to everyone. But for people who live with a chronic disease like arthritis, a strong social support system plays an even more crucial role in overall health and well-being.
Social support can take several forms. It might be as simple as knowing your friends and family care for you – a sense that they have your back. Or it could be more tangible, like when your spouse cleans the house so you can rest. Support can also come in the form of information: advice, tips, tricks and tools that help you live better day-to-day.
The Importance of Social Support
Whatever form support takes, you need it. Studies have shown that people with chronic disease who have a strong social support system have a better quality of life than those without support. Whether informal or formal, support can reduce the psychological and physical consequences of stress.
“A strong social support diminishes isolation by creating a sense of connection and belonging,” says Neda Gould, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “It also has been shown that it can lower blood pressure and boost the immune system.”
Putting Your Network Together
Isolation can be a real problem for people with arthritis. Pain and physical limitations can make it difficult to get out there and socialize. Plus, many people find it hard to ask for help. So, just how do you go about developing a social support system?
“Building a social network will obviously be different for everyone,” says Gould, who is also director of the Mindfulness Program at Johns Hopkins. “Start small. Pick one friend to reach out to this week. Or focus on something that interests you, and join a group that meets either virtually or in real-life.”
Depending on where you live and what your interests are, you might:
- Join a book club or other in-person or virtual group focusing on something of interest.
- Take a continuing education class at a local college or university.
- Get together on a regular basis with friends for lunch, dinner or an activity.
The Benefits of a Support Group
If you are having difficulty managing your arthritis and related symptoms, you might want something more formal and focused. In this instance, a support group might be the answer. Meeting with people who have arthritis and cope with the same issues as you can provide practical benefits. You will feel less isolated and you may learn some new tips and tools for managing your disease.
The Arthritis Foundation’s Live Yes! Arthritis Network is a great place to start. It has both in-person groups and online communities of people who also live with arthritis.
What to Look for in a Support Group
If you have never been part of a support group before, it can be daunting to think about finding the right one. You may have to check out a few groups before finding one that fits your needs and personality. In general, look for those that:
- Focus on arthritis or living with a chronic disease.
- Have an atmosphere in which you feel supported, safe and comfortable.
- Have active members who’ve been taking part for a while, so you know you’re joining a stable group.
- Also have newbies, so you get a range of opinions and perspective.
However you decide to seek out support, it’s important that you do so. As Gould points out, stress worsens disease and social support is the antidote to stress.
Support & Social Conflict: Section One - Social Support. https://macses.ucsf.edu/research/psychosocial/socsupp.php
Petrie KJ and Jones ASK. Coping with Chronic Illness. In: Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=_r-PDwAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA110&dq=chronic+illness+and+social+support&ots=KEWL5ZFoAc&sig=5xORE1xcgU2LJntA8bGTBVCqt2c#v=onepage&q=chronic%20illness%20and%20social%20support&f=false
Howick J, et al. Establishing a causal link between social relationships and health using the Bradford Hill Guidelines. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6527915/
Social Support. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/social-support
Reblin M and Uchino BN. Social and emotional support and its implication for health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18332671
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