Creating and maintaining a strong social support network can be very beneficial for your health and can also be key to managing your diabetes successfully. Research has shown that having social support from others can help with blood sugar control, weight management, lowering stress and depression, as well as lead to improved lifestyle habits and increased quality of life.
What is “social support” exactly?
There are a variety of ways to gain social support, all of which can be beneficial in different ways. Examples types of social support include:
- Emotional support-provides comfort and affection, like love, care, empathy, trust building, hugs, listening
- Esteem support- helps encourage and build confidence to create independence and reinforcement of self-care and skills/abilities
- Informational support-can come in the form of advice, recommendations, facts and information
- Tangible support-getting help from other to complete tasks and manage problems, financial assistance
- Social network support–creates a sense of belonging to a group, feelings of companionship and identification
Increasing your social support network step by step
As you can see, there are many, many ways you can get support from others, so try to take advantage of their benefits. Reach out to those you are close to and feel comfortable with. Your support network can and should include your family, friends, work colleagues, peers with your medical condition, and your healthcare team. If you are lucky enough to have people around you offering love and support, embrace it and involve them. Some ideas include:
1.) Carve out family time and work on a healthy lifestyle together
Take advantage of your family bond to make needed lifestyle changes together- such as eating a healthy diet, doing regular exercise, and adopting other positive behaviors. The whole family can benefit from eating a healthy diet, increasing activity and getting more sleep! If everyone in the family is on the same page you can help motivate each other with less temptation to go off track on your meal plan or put off doing exercise. Spend quality time together doing things like grocery shopping, visiting a farmer’s market and cooking a nutritious meal together. Try group exercise sessions like biking or hiking, and taking time out to relax as a family with upbeat activities like a family game night or a dance party. These are just a few of many ways to spend quality time to bond together as a family and strengthen your relationships.
2.) Plan date nights or special time with friends
It’s easy to get very busy, being caught up with work and other commitments, and this can take away much needed time with your partner and friends. Making an effort to maintain love and social connections is key to maintaining the support network that is so beneficial to your mental and physical health. It is important to allow yourself time on a regular basis to do this and schedule time to connect with your loved ones and friends.. Plan a regular date night with your partner to take time out to connect and have fun without distractions and schedule a walk or phone call with your friends so you can spend quality time together to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. Its incredible what just a few moments of enjoying time with people you care about can do for your mental health.
3.) Try counseling
If you are constantly experiencing stress about trying to manage your diabetes or tension continues to develop between you and your partner or with other family members, then you may want to consider going to a professional for help. Learning healthy ways to cope and how to create stronger and healthier relationships can help with your blood sugars and overall health. Going together to counseling can be a way to spend time working on problems together, where you are all engaged and involved.
4.) Take advantage of educational resources and support groups
There is a lot of useful information available about managing diabetes out there, sometimes it is just a matter of finding it. Meeting with a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) can be a great place to start, to help you make lifestyle changes, learn stress management techniques and also provide you with the best educational resources to learn more. Using online information and support can also enhance your lifestyle treatment plan, just to be sure you are using trusted, credible sites for your information. The American Diabetes Association website is a great place to start! When used the right way, the internet can be a great place to get more information about your condition and for helpful lifestyle change ideas—especially recipes and menu ideas.
Investigating online support communities may also be useful. You can also check with your healthcare provider about support groups in your local community and online to connect with others with diabetes which can be a great source of support and comfort.
5.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help and be specific as well as timely about it
If there are areas in managing your health and diabetes that you are finding challenging, reach out to those who support you and let them know what you need. Give others some direction about how to help. Use clear communication, being open and specific, so your friends and family can get on the same page about what your needs are, and about how they can best assist and support you. For example, if you need help with preparing healthy meals, an exercise buddy, someone to attend a doctor’s visit with you or just a friend to talk to when things get stressful- ASK! Also, don’t wait too long to get help as chronic stress can take a toll on your blood sugar, weight, and health. Dealing with problems and working things out sooner than later will benefit your health and create a more positive life environment, for you as well as those around you. Giving others examples of how to help can turn their good intentions into concrete actions that will benefit you and your relationships and in turn, this can improve your health and adherence to your treatment plan.