How to Make the Most of Your Social Support
Posted: November 4, 2021
Like it or not, we’re social creatures. Why not embrace it?
Even for “introverts,” some level of human connection is necessary for all of us to survive and thrive. Yet, in treatment and recovery, it can be more challenging than ever to connect with people who understand what you’re going through. We’re here for you, bud.
buddhi exists because we know that social support is quite literally good for your health.
We believe in its power so much that we’re adding a new social tool to our platform soon! (But more on that later…).
Studies have shown that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a greater risk of poor mental and cardiovascular health, as well as other potential problems. Bummer - you’re here, so we’re going to assume that, like us, you’ve got enough to worry about already. Are we right?
Fortunately, other studies have shown the incredible benefits of a network of social support. According to the Mayo Clinic, cultivating your support network can give you a boost by:
Improving the ability to cope with stressful situations
Alleviating the effects of emotional distress
Promoting lifelong good mental health
Reducing cardiovascular risks, such as lowering blood pressure
Promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors
Encouraging adherence to a treatment plan
Obviously, these are all especially important when you’re facing cancer.
“Social support systems can significantly mediate against distress for people with cancer and enhance quality of life. A patient’s social support network provides a means of coping with the everyday challenges of illness and mediating against the logistical, emotional, and physical burdens associated with cancer.” - A.J. Cincotta-Eichenfield, LMSW, Oncology Social Worker, CancerCare
Yet, diagnosis, treatment, and even recovery can make it tempting to distance yourself from the people who care about you. For starters, it can be completely overwhelming to receive the outpouring of love and support that can come from a cancer diagnosis. How do you know who is just reaching out to check a box, and who actually will be there for you when you need something? How do you talk to friends and family about your treatment plan when you barely understand it yourself? How do you respond when the worry in their eyes feels like it will bore holes through your skin if they give you “the stare” one minute longer?
Social support doesn’t look the same for every person with cancer.
While humans universally require support from other humans to survive, what that support looks like can vary. Everyone’s needs are different. A gesture that makes someone who might be the same age as you – with even the same type and stage of cancer – feel uplifted might overwhelm or annoy you.
A bud in our community recently shared one of the most helpful ways a friend has supported her. The friend sent texts asking her to thumbs up or thumb down a list of things she may need at the time. This took the pressure off when she didn’t feel like talking, while allowing her friend to provide practical support that would actually be helpful rather than just taking a guess.
Sometimes, the best thing a bud can do is just sit in silence with you. Remember, it’s totally normal for your energy levels and desire for connection with others to vary from day to day, or even hour to hour. Communication is key here. Figure out how you want to be supported, and then express that need to your support network as it evolves.
Seek out a stress-free squad.
If that requires you to love certain people from a distance for the time being, that’s ok. Your social life (or lack thereof) is not static. The perspective shifts you’re experiencing can forge new bonds or strengthen old ones in a way that will last a lifetime. Similarly, the recognition that life is simply too short for bullsh!t could give you the push to let go of unhealthy connections or social habits.
“An individual’s connections with friends and family members transform after diagnosis, and can often strengthen, emerging anew. Sometimes, connections prove less helpful than anticipated, and at times, dissipate entirely. People who have cancer may feel alienated from previous support systems whose members do not understand the cancer experience. They may feel isolated from individuals who flee from conversations and interactions due to the stigma of cancer and fear of adverse outcomes.” - A.J. Cincotta-Eichenfield, LMSW, Oncology Social Worker, CancerCare
Give yourself permission to “Marie Kondo” your support system. Lean on the special people who truly spark joy in your life. You’ve got enough toxic things in your body. You don’t have space for toxic relationships in your life too. (“Marie Kondo” is totally a verb now, right?!) Your stress levels are likely high enough right now. The primary goal of building your social support squad is to lower that, not add to it.
Your cat (or your dog, or your goldfish) doesn’t count, though.
We know, we know, they literally can’t say the wrong thing. While there’s plenty of merit to owning a pet, the benefits above are based on human interaction.
You may find it tempting to try to go it alone, but our bud Jenna at Twist Out Cancer would advise you to “not retreat and to tell a friend, tell a loved one, and build your squad. You need support to endure a cancer crisis and it is much harder to face it alone.” If your “Marie Kondo” skills have slashed your list of potential support to nearly no one, it’s time to make new connections.
Even if you’ve still got plenty of people in your corner, we recommend bringing at least one fellow cancer thriver into the mix.
"What we’ve found is that peer support, which includes help and advice from other people who have had similar experiences with cancer, either as patients or caregivers, is a very helpful kind of support and an important part of a good cancer support system.” - Elizabeth Bouchard, MA, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
If you don’t already know someone, don’t worry! There’s no need to scope out the oncology unit from the bushes in dark sunglasses and a hoodie, Joe Goldberg style.