Humans are social beings. We literally rely on cooperation with one another to survive and thrive. Receiving social support, especially during cancer, makes us feel understood, heard, and valued. It makes us known.
How connecting with others affects our health
After decades of research, psychologists and researchers have found that “the single biggest predictor of human happiness is the quality of a person’s relationships.” In fact, studies have concluded that “people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival [compared to] those with weaker social relationships.” Of course, that doesn’t take into account a cancer diagnosis. But positive social relationships can’t harm.
Connecting with others isn’t only paramount to survival, but critical for your own mental health and wellbeing and the effect that hardships have on our lives. Evidence also shows that strong social connections make us more resilient to stress and decrease the consequences of traumatic experiences. When battling depression or PTSD, for example, it is proven to be an important factor in “decreasing functional impairment and increasing the likelihood of recovery.” On top of that, a lack of social support also increases chances of becoming depressed. So, connecting with others is both preventative and reparative.
What counts as connecting with others?
Ben Tal-Shahar, who teaches Harvard’s most popular course ever on the science of happiness, breaks down our well-being into five pillars. One of them is relational – that is, spending time with people we care about and who care about us. These relationships can take all kinds of shape – family, friends, romantic, professional. The key? Close, intimate, and deep relationships. This means being able to really share what’s going on, especially during difficult times such as going through cancer, and not having to carry the burden alone.
It’s important to understand the difference between “being connected” and “connecting.” We can have hundreds of connections on social media and consistently be in the loop on what people are doing. But how are they doing? That’s what makes War On Cancer stand out – we’re a place where everyone touched by cancer can tell it like it is and be supported by others who know what it’s like. Difficult emotions are shared and stories (and images, for that matter), reflect reality.
4 kinds of social support
There are four different ways to connect with others and receive support to improve our mental health and wellbeing. The first is emotional support which is about being loved, reassured, and empathized with. It can take the shape of physical comfort, a listening ear, or an understanding smile. Esteem support is about being encouraged and getting a confidence boost. Informational support means giving and receiving advice and sharing knowledge and lastly, tangible support is practical, such as helping with the groceries or coming up with a concrete solution to a problem that’s arisen. War On Cancer’s app provides a place to connect with others and engage in the first three – emotional, esteem, and informational support, and we’re working on the fourth.
Connecting with others during cancer
When something like cancer happens, many people can be driven to isolation. It’s normal to feel misunderstood, alone, isolated from the world around us and the people in it. Cancer ghosting doesn’t make it easier. We may be rejected from people we thought we were accepted by, or they simply fade away. This messes with our minds.
As we deal with the loss that comes with cancer – whether that’s physical, relational, or something else entirely – it’s important to be able to share and process that grief with someone else. Regardless of whether you have family, your relationship status, or the size of your social circle, every person needs to be able to express struggles, joys, and walk with others in a meaningful way.
Try to make your needs heard to your loved ones – bring up what they are and when you need it. Continue the friendships and relationships that bring you joy, even if it feels like an effort. Think outside the box if how you used to connect with others feels overwhelming today. Pick up the phone for a chat, watch a movie or make dinner with a friend (physically or virtually, but at the same time!), or strike up a conversation with a nurse or passerby.
Don’t know who to turn to? That’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all felt that way. A great place to meet people who get what cancer is like and feel less isolated is in the War On Cancer app. Connect with people with the same diagnosis, age, or location. By learning from others experiences, or simply exposing yourself to them, it’s easier to understand that you’re not alone in your struggle.
There have been thousands of people before you who have dealt with similar emotions, negative or positive. Though every story is different and every life unique, the human experience has common denominators – hardships, triumphs, and finding a way forward together. Surrounding yourself with a group of people to share what you’re going through, understand it, and support you throughout your experience is paramount to boosting your mental health and getting by, day to day. Connect with others who get it today on the War On Cancer app.