If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition, you have a lot to manage. And you don’t have to go it alone. (A chronic condition is a disease or health problem that requires ongoing medical attention and/or that limits your ability to do daily activities.)
Of course, it’s crucial to follow your treatment plan. And you probably know how healthy lifestyle habits (like eating healthfully, being active, not smoking, and getting enough sleep) also matter. But there’s one more thing you need to make sure you attend to: getting support from others.
People with chronic conditions who have good social support tend to have better mental and physical health than those who don’t. One possible reason: Research shows that having social support can also ease your stress, which may help buffer against depression and anxiety. Lowering stress may also reduce your risk of health problems that could make your chronic condition worse. On top of that, having social support improves and enriches your daily life.
Here’s what you need to know about finding social support if you or someone you love is living with a chronic condition.
Start With Friends and Family
When you have a chronic health condition, you may feel like your loved ones don’t really understand what you’re going through because they haven’t had to face what you face: The doctor appointments, the meds, the ups and downs in how you feel day to day.
But they can still listen to you and lend a hand. They just may not know how to ask or what to offer.
Whenever possible, be open about what you’re dealing with, so they can have a better idea of what you need and want. If you need help (for example, opening a jar or picking up groceries or medication), speak up. Most people want to help but don’t know how unless you tell them what you need.
Keep in mind that social support doesn’t have to revolve around your condition. Just talking about everyday things can boost your mood and ease your stress. Be sure to reach out to positive people in your life and make plans to get together. Having something to look forward to can keep your spirits higher and may be a welcome break from dealing with your condition.
If getting together in person isn’t an option, schedule regular phone calls or video chats, or connect on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Connect With Your Community
Organizations within your community may help you connect with others and get support for daily tasks. Look for local branches of respected organizations that are dedicated to your condition (for example, the American Cancer Society or Young Survivors Coalition if you have cancer; the Arthritis Foundation if you have a form of arthritis; or the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation if you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis). Faith-based organizations, community centers, and/or senior centers may also be able to help with things like providing meals, picking up groceries, and transportation to and from doctor appointments.
Find a Support Group
Being around people dealing with the same condition can be a relief because it reminds you that you’re not alone. What’s more, it can give you new ideas for dealing with your condition.
Ask your doctor if they can recommend a support group. Some groups are held in person in a space like a community center or hospital. If getting together face-to-face isn’t an option, consider connecting with an online group. You may be able to find one through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
You can also reach out to national organizations dedicated to your condition to see if they host online support groups.
See a Pro
Talking to a mental health professional about what you’re going through can help you work through your feelings and find new ways to deal with your condition. Your doctor or another member of your health care team should be able to give you recommendations for a psychologist, social worker, or counselor who has worked with people who have chronic conditions.
Lean on Your Health Care Team
You may not think of your health care team as part of your support system, but they can help you by offering information and advice on how to manage your condition. Apart from your doctor, that includes physician assistants, nurses, dietitians, social workers, and educators trained in a particular condition (such as a diabetes educator) in your health care system.
In addition to going to all checkups that your doctor recommends, reach out to your health care team any time you have a new health issue or question, have trouble managing your condition, or feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. The more connected you are, the better.