The Physical Power Of Social Support

Certain behaviors may help safeguard you from illness and disease. These include exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. Here may be another: staying socially connected. It may well do your mind and body lots of good. To further explore the power of social support, Dana Neacsu, MD, a hospitalist at Gwinnett Medical Center with expertise in integrative and functional medicine, shares her expertise.

Boosting your health

Everyone you associate with is part of your social network. That may include family members, close friends, coworkers, team mates and acquaintances. Some of these people you may interact with regularly. Others you may not see or speak with for long stretches of time. No matter their relationship to you, they may play a part in keeping you healthy.

Ongoing research shows the power of social support. People who are socially connected tend to live longer. They also may fare better after an illness. In fact, a recent study asked a group of adults who suffered a heart attack to rate their social support. Those with a moderate to high levels reported better quality of life 1 and 12 months later. They also didn’t feel as depressed.

Staying socially connected may help prevent an illness, too. That was the conclusion of one study that looked at hugging and the common cold. For 2 weeks, a small group of adults were asked about their social support, particularly how many hugs they received in a day. They were then exposed to the virus. Those who logged more hugs showed better immunity to the bug.

What might be behind this connection? It may be related to how your body handles stress. Such chronic strain has been linked to many health ills, including heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, headaches, chronic pain and obesity. Surrounding yourself with caring people may act as a buffer against stress.

Building social support

Like any healthy habit, building a strong social network takes time and commitment. You need to stay in touch with friends and family. First decide on who you want in your life. Avoid people who make you feel bad about yourself or who don’t support you. You should also stay away from those who tempt you to take up bad habits, such as abusing drugs.
To help strengthen the relationships you value, do the following:
  • Regularly reach out to those people. Call, text, or email them. Don’t just speak to them when times are bad. Include them in your good moments, too.
  • Make plans to see the person. Schedule a lunch, night out, or other excursion that you both will enjoy.
  • Be a good listener. Don’t always be the one who shares. When you communicate with a friend or family member, ask how everything is going. Be sincere and honest about your feelings.

Looking to add some new friends to your social network? Consider joining a book club, hiking group, or sports league. Go to places you enjoy or better yet, try something new and expand your interests. Try taking a class or volunteering (especially now around the holidays). In fact, recent studies have shown that donating time not only helps you to feel more connected, it also promotes good mental health and a sense of purpose.
The Support You Need

We all benefit from support. Whether it’s practical, informational or emotional, support is vital to our overall wellbeing. This is especially true when it comes to matters of health.

When you or someone you love is coping with a medical concern, it can be difficult to navigate the physical, emotional and social changes. In an effort to provide well-rounded support to those that need it most, Gwinnett Medical Center offers a wide-variety of support groups. Whether it’s smoking cessation or an Alzheimer’s caregivers support group, GMC can help. 


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