Whether you’re newly diagnosed or you’ve been living with a chronic illness for some time now the importance of a social support system cannot be overlooked. Creating a management plan with your doctor is a crucial first step, but getting support and help from people outside that office, clinic or hospital is going to go a long way.
Sociologists, scientists, and doctors have been researching and putting more of an emphasis on social support as an essential part of managing the stress of everyday life. Navigating today’s world can be a challenge even when you’re not chronically ill, and a person with an illness has more stressors and challenges than the average person. They also might deal with issues of shame or embarrassment due to their illness or situation which can cause them to want to isolate themselves.
The good news is there are options for reaching out for help or support when you need it.
- Close family and friends – The most obvious candidates for a strong support system are those that love you and know you. It might mean helping you physically accomplish tasks, taking time out of their day to be with you, or being an advocate for you. For some, this might be the scariest of the options and it’s understandable. It can be scary to ask for help, it can be daunting to fill people in on what’s going on, but the people closest to you are there for a reason; they care about you and want to help! And if they can’t do it themselves they can help you find someone who can!
- Pets – We don’t just mean service animals, our pets are an amazing source of support! While some animals do have the training and skills to help those with certain illnesses, the emotional impact our pets have on us is immeasurable. They listen, they love us unconditionally, they provide another presence in our home which makes us feel safe, and they will never judge you.
- Support Groups – In-Person support groups exist for many, many different situations. Sometimes it can be hard to feel like someone “gets it” if they’ve never been through it. That’s why groups like these can be so valuable to those with a chronic illness. Every story is different, but it helps when a person’s story is in the same book as yours. Some groups are independently run, some of them are affiliated with certain medical centers or even religious groups, this is something you can certainly ask your doctor about. They usually have access to information about in-house groups, or groups nearby.
- Online Communities – Some of us are naturally shy, or introverted, or uncomfortable in a group setting, but that doesn’t mean we have to be alone. The internet has so many online health forums and resources for those seeking answers and support but may not be able or ready to access the other options above. For some, being online can feel easier or safer to open up about what they’re going through. It can still feel wonderful to get support and validation from people in similar situations, even if you’ve never met them in person.