Building A Personal Support Group of Friends and Family

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Reach Out To Friends And Family
A network of close family and friends can provide more support and encouragement during life’s struggles than any standard medical treatment alone. Consider your friends and family a community of people whose goal should include supporting your health and wellness. While ultimately you are responsible for taking charge of your health and well-being, everyone needs a little help and understanding at some point or another.

Coping With Chronic Illness Or Injury
Many people learn the hard way that coping with a chronic disease or ailment alone is almost impossible. As human beings we are naturally social creatures. We seek out the support, comfort and understanding of others in our hour of need. A study published by the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health recently concluded that a low frequency of social relationships resulted in a lower quality of life among older patients with chronic ailments including osteoarthritis. A high frequency of social relationships including those with friends was associated with a higher health related quality of life. Other studies support the link between social support and a positive health outcome.

Let’s face it, dealing with an illness or injury is difficult, even for the strongest among us. Apart from the physical effects of disease, which may include pain and fatigue, the emotional effects of chronic disease can include depression, anxiety, fear and loneliness. It is important for our health and well-being that we reach out to others in our time of need. Friends and family members can help us not only recognize our own fears, but find ways to cope and remain strong no matter the outcome.

One of the most important steps toward coping with chronic illness is admitting your own fears, limits, hopes and dreams. By recognizing your own emotions, you are letting others know it is okay for them to share too. In an open and clear environment, friends and family members are much more likely to share their own feelings. Doing so can help everyone improve their mental outlook and well-being. When disease or injury affects a person, it affects an entire family. Thus it is important the family work together to cope and uncover the best methods for recovery.

How To Reach Out To Friends And Family
It’s natural for people to react with bad news with fear and anxiety. Many times family or friends withdraw from someone when their support is needed most. Unfortunately the easy way to deal with a complex situation is often to avoid it altogether. This can be devastating for the affected person.

If you have a chronic disease or illness, you may feel the need to protect your friends and family from your disease. You may hide your feelings from them in the hope that they will go on living a happy and rewarding life. The truth is, your family and friends need to understand what you are feeling and how you are doing. Most people want to support you, but they will hesitate to approach you if you are withdrawn.

The first step on your journey toward recovery is to recognize and share your feelings and emotions about your condition. Even if your friends and family members can’t understand what you are going through, they can lend an ear and offer support and sympathy. They can provide you a shoulder to cry on when times are tough, and help you laugh even in the worst of circumstances.

Even during joyous times of life, like pregnancy, we often find ourselves burdened by unwelcome feelings. These may include stress and anxiety, whether it be about our health, the baby’s health, our expectations or the changes in life that will occur when a new member of the family arrives. It is more important than ever during this emotional time that you consult your friends and family for guidance and support. Your social network can help reaffirm your feelings and help you reestablish a confident, positive outlook no matter your situation.

One last point. It’s important that you let friends and family in. You should also let them know it is okay to feel uncomfortable. Our society has a tendency to build wall around people going through tough times. We feel we must gloss over uncomfortable events and cover everything with rose scented paper. If someone you love is dying of cancer however, the situation is grim. While you will find times to still laugh and share fond memories; you will also go through much pain, confusion, anger, discomfort and various other emotions. It’s perfectly normal to feel all of these emotions, and it’s perfectly normal for your friends and family members to feel them too. By acknowledging their discomfort or fears, you let them know you still care and it’s ok to feel weird even under the best of circumstances. We are all after all, human. We need each other to lean on.