There has been a lot of research coming out on loneliness as a risk factor for health and longevity. Some studies have even gone as far as to say that loneliness is a higher risk factor for mortality than cigarettes. So what does social support (or it’s inverse, loneliness) have to do with chronic pain?
Well, there have been studies done on this subject and the results probably won’t surprise you. For example in one study of almost 200 patient, people who described their families as being supportive reported significantly less pain intensity, less reliance on medication and greater activity levels (Jamison,R., Virts, K. The influence of family support on chronic pain. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 1990. Volume 28, 4, 283–287). Several other studies have found that a lack of social support is associated with higher levels of depression and poorer pain adjustment (Campbell, Clauw & Keefe, 2003; López-Martínez et al., 2008; Romano, Turner & Jensen, 1997; Tsai et al., 2003).
So what can be done with this information if you are living with chronic pain? Check your social support network. Who do you see every day? Who can you call if you need help or a favor? If your social circle has dwindled down to one or two people then it’s probably time to expand it. Thanks to the internet there are all kinds of “Meet-Up” groups one can find, for everything from learning to macramé to people who love poodles. Or consider checking out a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Religious and spiritual communities can be a great place to meet others and feel supported. Volunteering is another great way to meet new people as well as take the focus off of yourself. You can check out volunteer opportunities in Austin at www.volunteermatch.org or http://www.austin360.com/entertainment/night-life/austin-volunteer-opportunities/d73i07tUhqIJcz63ZPD74I/. Or contact your favorite charity—The American Red Cross, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, Easter Seals…the list is practically endless. Even if your chronic pain keeps you from working you can probably find a volunteer situation that would work for you. It may be sitting for an hour stuffing envelopes for a charity drive or taking calls on a help line. Or sorting donations for a church garage sale. The opportunities can be one-time or repeating. You would be surprised at how much you can get out of giving back to others, even when you yourself are not feeling so great.
I hope that this topic inspires you to do a wellness check on your social support and take action if it is lagging. Your pain will be less and your spirits will be better!
Yours in health,
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP