Sometimes it’s really difficult to maintain relationships and stay social with others around you. This can be due to a number of reasons and factors. Life in general creates enough hurdles and curveballs that prevent us from staying engaged and interacting with others, at times it’s simply because things get in the way. Having a chronic illness like MS can certainly make staying connected even more challenging as the disease comes with its own agenda and unpredictability. But it’s important to try to stay socially linked to people and support networks around you, because it can be beneficial in more ways than one.
It’s understandable if there are times when you don’t want to reach out to others and engage in social interactions, it happens to everyone. There are moments where we just want to be alone and process things on our own. However, making ties and maintaining relationships can create added benefits to one’s life. Positive connections can help to boost your mood and attitude, especially when surrounding yourself with encouraging and optimistic people. Staying social can create a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie with others. These bonds may form even stronger if the same types of values, goals and experiences are shared—or if they are not, there is infinite respect in the relationship to appreciate these differences.
Having a chronic illness can sometimes cause feelings of isolation and separation for those affected—a feeling of being alone in what’s happening because others do not know or understand the condition. That’s when connecting to others who have similar backgrounds or experiences can help. Sharing the same types of feelings, thoughts and hopes with others increases a sense of belonging and validation in knowing you’re not alone in your experiences. Social engagement can help decrease stress levels and keep your mind active which can also aid in improving your overall health. And it doesn’t matter what type of social activity you’re engaged in; whether it’s taking a walk or ride, going out to an event, talking on the phone or attending a group, what matters is the connections you’re making and the positive benefits they have on your well-being.
As our blog theme for the month will focus on various concepts of wellness, I wanted to emphasize that wellness does not necessarily mean just in the physical sense with diet and exercise. Wellness can encompass many different factors, including spirituality or social well-being. As with many notions and ideas we have, wellness too can be perceived differently by individuals, and there’s not only one right way of looking at it.
Social wellness can be just as important as other types because of the impact it can have on one’s body and mind. Taking care of yourself physically is vital, but taking care of and being mindful of your social needs is equally essential. Human beings are meant to connect to others to find fulfilling emotional and thoughtful interactions. Reaching out to other people to make ties that create happiness and contentment is one of the most basic human instincts. Of course there can be interactions and relationships along the way that don’t always bring this sense of fulfillment or joy. But again, it’s part of our nature to either work through these obstacles to work on trying to change and repair these ties, or to dissolve them if they are causing increased stress and harm. The latter decision can be very difficult, but it’s important to know when a relationship is not providing positive benefits but rather draining energy and support.
There are different ways for people to get socially connected to one another. Joining something like an art or education class, or attending social events in your community are some of the ways to increase connections. Throughout the MS community there are various internet group forums and discussions online, an MS Friends telephone line, support group settings and MS educational events. The form of communication can vary in social circles too, as some may feel more comfortable interacting online or may have access issues to physically attending outings. No matter the method, having affirmative social bonds can help to increase positive wellness.
Making friends as an adult can be a challenge. Often the friends we have as adults are those we have grown up with, either through grade school or college. Sometimes those friendships change and we find ourselves looking for new friends, or friends that share a common interest, skill, or lifestyle.
Individuals diagnosed with MS may be looking to make connections with others that are diagnosed, but have a hard time meeting people face to face. There are several opportunities available to promote friendships and support to those diagnosed and their family members.
Social media can be a great way to get connected, just be comfortable knowing that your diagnosis or personal information can be shared online. Facebook groups allow individuals throughout the world to connect and share information; search in Facebook ‘multiple sclerosis’ and find a number of private or public groups. Online message boards such as MS Connection or MS World can also be an effective way to find individuals who are interested in a certain topic.
If online communication is not your thing, MS Friends, a program organized by the National MS Society connects individuals with MS through a telephone service. You can contact 1-866-673-7436 and speak to an individual with MS. MSAA also offers a Networking program, which can connect individuals through letters or e-mails.
With so many options to get connected, how do you stay in contact with others?
It’s all the rage these days – communicating to others through technology channels, especially online. Gone are the days where individuals only communicated in-person or by telephone. Now interacting with others may still involve a telephone, but mostly by way of text messaging and social media platforms do people stay tied to others.
Using online communication systems to interact has been steadily increasing with the technology age and will probably continue to do so. Individuals in the MS community use various types of online platforms and discussion groups to discuss MS-related topics and interests with fellow members of the community.
As this online communication trend continues, what are some ways to ensure your safety and comfort level when accessing these portals?
Read and review. Be sure to read and review any website and social media platform policies when engaging in online interactions. Your privacy is important, so be cautious of what information you share online and how it will be shared with others; only share and disclose what you’re comfortable with. Use discretion if disclosing personal details or identifying information about yourself. You want to ensure that your safety and privacy remain a priority when connecting to others.
If some type of interaction feels ‘off’ in some way, be mindful of that feeling and try to take the appropriate steps to disengage if necessary. Remember why you reached out in the first place, if you feel as though you are not getting the support or information you need, or that conversations are not healthy for you, you have the right to leave the conversation.
Communicating online can be a supportive and dynamic experience, so just be sure to do so safely and appropriately.
The relationships that we hold with family members are some of the most significant and influential ties that we will carry throughout our lifetime. These bonds, whether good or a little rocky at times, help to build the foundation of our relations with other people. Because these relationships hold so much meaning and importance, individuals put forth much effort into maintaining them to ensure they remain intact. What helps to make this possible?
A key element in all types of relationships is communication. Being able to disclose feelings, concerns, and needs to others is important and can build strong ties in the connections. Reading other people’s minds can be a challenge, so talking openly about things is a good step to knowing what the other person is feeling. This isn’t easy for everyone; it can be difficult to bring matters to other people’s attention and talk about different issues, especially if they are personal or sensitive in nature. Because of this it’s important to think about whom you feel comfortable disclosing things to if challenges arise.
Having that go-to person/support in place is essential to communicating effectively and being able to share your personal experiences. Sometimes you may seek this type of support outside of your family structure which may inadvertently upset family members. So then with family, you may need to have a discussion about communications barriers or discomforts to be able to disclose why communication is difficult. This can help to reduce confusion and misconceptions in these relationships, and still leave the communication lines open. As family remains one of the strongest ties in connecting to others, communication will remain an integral part of this system.
“It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
Relationships have the capacity to be great. They can be fun, comforting, reliable, and strong. I think most of us would agree that while relationships can be wonderful, they can also be challenging at times, just like anything else. Any relationship, no matter the connection—spouse, significant other, parent-child, sibling, friend—each comes with its own benefits and struggles. I know that I can definitely bump heads with my mother from time-to-time on any kind of issue, but I suppose it comes with the territory.
I think that all of us, at one time or another, like to think that we can do everything on our own—to be independent from others so that we can show ourselves what we are capable of. But I believe it’s part of human nature to seek out connections, to find comfort and dependability in another being so that we can feel a part of something bigger. What do you look for in your relationships with others? What helps you make those connections?