Newsflash: “Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health,” as The New York Times recently reported. Decades of research support the theory that social connections can have a positive effect on your health. Having social ties may help prevent illness and is still a boon to your health when you’re sick or living with a health condition. Check out some of the research and see how members are supporting each other socially on PatientsLikeMe.
What’s the science behind social connections?
As the Times reports, a 2001 study found that people with coronary artery disease who’ve had a heart attack have a lower risk of another cardiac arrest if they’re more socially connected. Other studies have shown that social interactions and support may help with everything from wound healing and physical pain to mood and psychological symptoms.
Researchers who’ve studied the benefits of social interactions for women with breast cancer have found that receiving social-emotional support may reduce stress and affect the body’s “HPA” axis (or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis – that’s a mouthful). Basically, the HPA axis uses glands, hormones and nerves to help regulate several processes in the body: stress response, immune and digestive systems, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy storage.
Studies show that “instrumental support” (like in-person assistance with getting to appointments and taking medications) is helpful to people with health conditions, but some researchers say that “social-emotional support” (connecting face-to-face or online) is critical in disease management. Another New York Times article notes that long-distance friendships are beneficial, and “in many studies, friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member.”
Here for each other – on PatientsLikeMe
Many PatientsLikeMe members arrived here because of their diagnosis – but they’re discussing more than their health on the site. Many build a virtual network of comrades with whom they chat or check in about their weekends, birthdays, holidays, hobbies and more. For some people, having a health condition may make it harder to get out and socialize face-to-face, and for others, an in-person network of “normals” (people without health issues) doesn’t always get it.
Here are some stats about non–health-related exchanges on PatientsLikeMe:
- 8,372 “happy birthday” posts
- 8,209 “here for you” posts
- 4,921 “happy for you” posts
- 3,144 “Merry Christmas” + 950 “Happy Holidays” posts
- 6,126 “this weekend” + 570 “your weekend” posts
- 2,254 “how are you doing?” + 1,256 “how are you feeling?” posts
- 2,229 “I hear you” posts
- 866 “made my day” posts
- And, finally… 75,553 “hugs”
Let’s talk (OT)!
Just to name a few “off topic” (“OT”) discussions on PatientsLikeMe…
- In the Parkinson’s disease forum, members have swapped lots of jokes and pics of their artwork for almost a decade.
- In the MS forum, members play “Ask the next person a question” and all sorts of word games.
- Members of the mental health community have kept their “Three word story” thread going strong for seven years, and shared their “Goals for today” with each other for even longer.
- “Potpourri” and family photos threads in the ALS forum have been go-to places to share about non-ALS stuff.
What would you like to chat about? Join the community today and click the green button to “Start a new topic” like the ones above (or whatever you can think of!).
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