By Debbie Herbst, RD, LD, CDE
Mercy Hospital Carthage
Is a “miracle diet” that works every time too good to be true? Is a “miracle cure” for health problems like cancer, heart disease or dementia also too good to be true? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a miracle cure?
There is a “miracle” that will help with all of the above. It may not solve the situation, but can make it more bearable and increase healing.
What is the miracle? It’s social support.
Health problems such as diabetes, cancer or being overweight have an emotional side. The same is true for certain life events, like becoming a parent or caring for an elderly loved one.
Life is changing, so you may need someone to talk to, a night out, advice or encouragement. All of these needs can be met through social support.
What does social support mean in practical terms? It has many forms. You may find support in groups led by professionals or in groups of people who have the same problems. Family members, friends and church relationships also can provide emotional support with empathy, compassion, prayer or comfort.
If you have a support network, you will not feel as alone and can learn new ways to deal with problems. Social support can be that “miracle” to help you stick with healthy eating to lose weight, continue exercising or recover from a heart attack.
Research has shown that people with social support get better faster from illness and are more successful with lifestyle changes. In other words, don’t try to be the “Lone Ranger.”
What about support groups? Do people just sit around and talk about their problems?
Not necessarily, but usually the group is made up of people with similar situations or issues. The point is to support one another and give practical advice and encouragement.
Good support groups meet regularly, such as weekly or monthly. Often, they are attended by the person with the problem or situation and a family member or close friend. Some people do not feel comfortable in groups, but try the group at least twice.
Where can you find a support group for your problem or situation? Ask a health professional or call the hospital. Contact a pastor, a church or a YMCA. Many YMCAs have weight-loss groups that provide support, information and encouraging speakers.
Some churches sponsor faith-based running/exercise groups. This is a way to learn and practice skills with others who have the same interests and challenges.
Ask people who have the same condition. Contact a city, state or national group for the condition that can provide information about local meetings.
What if you don’t like the group setting? That is OK. Social support includes emotional support such as love, trust and understanding. Family, friends and the community can provide this. In turn, you will feel cared about and will have hope.
Online groups can be a source of support, but realize that most are not monitored by professionals; therefore, these groups may not always give correct information or be positive or uplifting.
What if you don’t have good social support? This can make your problem worse and result in failure or declining health.
You might feel ashamed of the problem or become angry, causing people to avoid you. You may feel too sad to talk to people or, if not, don’t have family or friends nearby.
How can you improve social support? Know that friendship is a two-way street. Ask others about their families, jobs and interests. Focus on the needs of others and help when you can.
Don’t always complain or talk about yourself. Know when to stop talking and to be a good listener. Watch out for friends or relatives who drag you down, talk negatively or live a destructive lifestyle. Don’t rely on one person for support.
The emotional side of difficult life situations, such as an illness, plays a big part in coping. Without social support, you are at risk of getting worse, being overwhelmed or giving up.
What about that miracle cure? Call a friend and take a walk. You may just find it.
Mercy clinical nutrition dietitians at Mercy Hospital Carthage on the McCune-Brooks Campus, 3125 Dr. Russell Smith Way, can be reached at 417-359-1359.