The Psychological Benefits of Sharing in Community
Published 7 Jan 2021 • By Gilda Teissier
Humans are bio-psycho-social beings that learn and grow thanks to the society in which they live. People are so in need of contact with others that since the beginning of time they have developed ways to stay connected. It is thanks to this social character that humanity has properly developed and survived.
So, how can this "needed" closeness impact one's overall well-being? How can sharing in an online community about your journey with your health condition bring you psychological benefits?
We tell you everything in our article!
Anthropological studies show that hominids (primates) may have begun to develop a form of spoken language because of their need to share their ideas. Research has also shown that humans are innately compassionate and empathetic. These facts underline the way humans are wired to share information with each other, help one another and feel understood.
This raises the question: if these interactions are a "need", what parts of the human body are affected or privileged thanks to social interaction? Psychologist Susan Pinker says that “as a result of social interaction dopamine is generated, which gives us a little high and kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine”.
Social connection is also known to bring us comfort and to be a key component of solid relationships, as well as strong psychological health. Even the most introverted people seek social contact from time to time. Social support, essentially, means having a network of people that you can turn to in times of need. These needs might be emotional, instrumental and/or informational.
It is said that thanks to social support people are able to thrive during hard times. Mental health professionals often recommend having a group of loved ones or peers that are going through the same as you, in order to better deal with a crisis, anxiety or stress. Stress has been shown to have serious health consequences, ranging from reduced immunity to increased risk of heart disease. Being surrounded by caring and supportive people helps us to see ourselves as being better able to cope with the stresses that life brings.
On a more scientific note, it has been shown that brain function is altered by depression and loneliness, both of which are consequences of a lack of socialisation. Research has also shown that interaction with others stimulates our brain. Social contact improves memory formation and recall, and shields the brain from mental decline and neurodegenerative diseases. Lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and more trusting and cooperative relationships are the results of social connections. Strong, healthy relationships can also help to strengthen your immune system, help you recover from illness and may even prolong your life.
Loneliness has dramatic consequences on health. It leads to disrupted sleep patterns, elevated blood pressure and increased stress. People without social support are five times more likely to experience a mental illness such antisocial behaviour, depression and suicide. Solitude and loneliness are not the same. Feeling lonely is a problem, but being alone may not be. Many people live alone and have happy, fulfilling lives, the key is knowing when and with whom to share it.
How can a community can help you?
There are two fundamental aspects of the social world that contribute to health: social support and belonging to a community. Being part of a community can have a positive effect on mental health and emotional well-being. Participation in community life provides a sense of belonging and social connectedness. It can also offer additional meaning and purpose to everyday life.
This contact can be physical, which is most encouraged in order to achieve better psychological and physical results, but it can also be remote through any type of device. It is true, and not only because of COVID-19, that sometimes it is very hard to go out or to find like-minded people near you. This is where online social support networks come in.
A recent study found that for many people, communicating with others – through online forums, social media, or in person – can help them to achieve a healthier mind-set, improved self-esteem and greater enjoyment of life. Having people to talk to and depend on can help reduce the risk of mental illness.
Having access to or providing advice, guidance and information is the kind of support that people with chronic conditions need the most, as it provides insight and perspective on the illness. Illness very often bring a sense of isolation and of dislocation from the past and the future. Being ill, facing a health issue or being a family carer can challenge one's personal identity, and some people may feel embarrassed or even stigmatised by their condition. Knowing that others are tackling similar problems and learning how these people deal with difficult issues can reduce these feelings of isolation, bringing a sense of belonging to a group and reassurance that one's experiences and reactions are “normal”.
Sharing online with like-minded people can also help to make important decisions or act on big life changes. With this kind of support, people feel less anxious or stressed about the problems related to their illness. Hearing about others’ experiences can induce feelings of compassion, so that one becomes less self-absorbed and gains a broader perspective. By having a strong social support network both online and offline, you are more likely to receive the kind of emotional and informational help you need when you really need it.
At the same time, for people with rare conditions, who are undergoing unusual treatments or who are geographically isolated, the internet may be the only place to find support and so is especially important.
The idea of social connection is to share one's time, experiences and stories with others, and to also to listen in return. Gradually, you will build a group of people in your life who care about you, and who you also care about. Both your mind and body will reap the rewards.
It is a fact that everyone needs sometimes needs his or her own space and being socially active is not something that everyone can do all the time. However, at least occasionally, socialising or just being in contact with other people through the internet can allow you to get out of your own head and gain fresh insight about what is going on at home and in the world.
Being happier, learning better, having lower stress levels and increased overall physical well-being should motivate you to either get out and mingle with others or open your browser and start talking with like-minded people.
And always remember that social support is not a one-way street. In addition to relying on others, you can also serve as a form of support for many people that need it on the other end of the internet. It is a win-win situation.
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- Health and Illness in a Connected World: How Might Sharing Experiences on the Internet Affect People's Health? US National Library of Medicine
- Social influence on 5-year survival in a longitudinal chemotherapy ward co-presence network. Cambridge University Press
- Association between social support and depression in the general population: the HUNT study, a cross‐sectional survey. Wiley Online Library
- Manage stress: Strengthen your support network. American Psychological Association
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- Relations among social support, PTSD symptoms, and substance use in veterans. APA Psych Net
- The relationship between organised recreational activity and mental health. Government of Western Australia
- Strong relationships, strong health. Better Health Channel
- Having close friends may stave off mental decline. Medical News Today