Social Support Is Vital
Many of us depend on social support from others to help us cope with migraines and headaches, and to live a fuller life. Research has shown that social support is also vital to ward off the effects of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions
Here are tips from Mental Health America (MHA) to create a plan for making, keeping and strengthening the social connections in our lives.
- Make a short list of friends and family members who are supportive and positive. Also, include a list of people you feel the need to stay in touch with regularly, such as parents, close friends or an adult child who live far away, or an aging relative who lives alone.
- Make a commitment to call, email or get together with them on a schedule that’s reasonable for you. Try to make at least one emotional connection a day, but plan realistically. In cases of long distance, consider using web-based methods of communication, such as Skype or Facebook.
- Share what’s on your mind honestly and openly. Talk about your concerns in a straightforward way, but try to keep it constructive. Be direct about what you need--for example, a sympathetic ear, help solving a problem, a fresh perspective, new ideas or a good laugh. Don’t hesitate to ask for the kind of help you’d like. Ask what other people think about your situation, and show you value their opinion.
- When you talk, also listen. Ask about someone else’s day, or follow up on a previous conversation. Showing sincere interest in another person’s life builds relationships, and listening to other people’s concerns can often shed new light on your own challenges. Offer help or advice if asked. Listen and respond.
- Make social plans. Create opportunities to strengthen your relationships with fun things that both you and your friend will enjoy. Looking forward to special activities boosts our spirits, gives us energy and makes us more productive.
You may find that among people you hardly know, one or more can become friends you rely on—and support—in good times and bad. Even if you feel that you’re too busy or your migraines leave you with little time when you feel well, it doesn’t have to take long to make new friends. If you’re shy and hesitant about meeting new people, just asking a few questions can get a conversation going. Think about neighbors you pass regularly, coworkers, people in your exercise class, a cousin you’ve lost touch with or those who volunteer in the same organizations you do. If you don’t already have people you can talk to regularly about what’s on your mind, it’s worth the effort to build connections for your emotional health. If you find yourself anxious about social interaction, you may want to talk to a therapist or counselor about building your confidence in social situations.
An increasingly popular way of connecting with others is through social media. While it doesn't--and shouldn't--replace face-to-face interactions, social media can be a useful tool for keeping in touch and staying up-to-date with what’s happening in the lives of your friends and family. Before setting up an account on a social media site, however, you should consider what you’d like to achieve and decide how much information about yourself you would like to share, and adjust the privacy settings accordingly. But post with caution-- a recent study suggests that using Facebook extensively may cause a decline in life satisfaction, whereas direct social interactions led people to feel better over time.
Popular social networking sites
- Facebook is good for keeping in touch with friends and family, and for sharing thoughts, videos and photos. You can share with your entire network by posting on your timeline, or you can send instant messages or private messages to specific people. Facebook is replete with discussion and support groups for many health conditions, including migraine. But exercise caution. Some groups share migraine information that is inaccurate, while others have developed a negative atmosphere that can be very unhealthy and cause us more problems.
- Twitter is better for keeping up with news and micro-blogging (telling how you feel or what you’re doing in 140 characters or less). On Twitter, beware of the people you don't know who offer cures or try to sell you products too good to be true.
- Pinterest is an online bulletin board that allows you to collect images and videos and share them with others. It’s particularly popular among hobbyists.
- LinkedIn is like Facebook for professionals. Use it to share your resume, look for jobs and establish and communicate with business networks.
- Instagram is used for taking photos and applying interesting and artsy filters, then sharing them with your social network.
A few other insights from the MHA
A study that followed participants for 20 years found that a person’s level of happiness was related to the happiness of their social networks. If a person had a happy friend who lived within a mile, that person was 25 percent more likely to be happy as well, according to the research. In addition, it found that a person’s happiness can be related to the happiness of someone separated by up to three degrees (a friend of a friend of a friend).
A low level of social interaction was found to have as much impact on a person’s lifespan as smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as being obese.
When social connections aren't enough
Despite good social connections, there still can be times when we feel overwhelmed, unable to cope with our health and our lives, and when stress affects our ability to function. If and when this happens, you should consider consulting a mental health professional. Ask your doctor or migraine specialist for a recommendation.
The bottom line
Social support is essential to both our physical and mental health. But this can be difficult when family, friends and coworkers don't understand our migraines or headaches. As a result, many of us have developed connections and friendships online, where we can find people in similar situations who better understand what we’re going through. Those of us who have problems making connections due to feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope or having too much stress can benefit from consulting a mental health professional.
The bottom line is that people need interactions and relationships with others to be healthy and happy.
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© Teri Robert, 2014, • Last updated May 15, 2014.