Understanding Social and Emotional Support in Lifestyle Medicine

We are now into the last area of focus in Lifestyle Medicine: support. As mentioned before, humans are social animals that have a desire to be close with other people or be a part of something bigger. Therefore, it is natural for you to feel needed and be part of a unit, big or small. Having a healthy relationship with others can provide you a sense of well-being and purpose which could add years to your life.

In this article, we will not only explore the links between human relationships and health but also how Lifestyle Medicine incorporates this knowledge into its practice.

The Early Years

In 1905, tuberculosis became endemic in Boston and only the rich could afford the treatment. So Dr. Joseph Pratt, an Internal Medicine physician, asked Elwood Worcester of the Emmanuel Church to support his project of improving the care of tuberculosis patients. While Emmanuel Church provided the meeting place and the funding, Dr. Pratt would gather the eight patients together to educate them about hygiene, encourage rest, nutrition, fresh air, and home visits. Although the group meetings became health education sessions, Pratt realized that the patients found a common bond in a common disease which contributed to the overall success of their treatment.

Definition of Support and Other Terms

We define support as providing assistance to other people in times of crisis to give them focus, encouragement, or positive self-image. Having your own support system enhances the quality of your life and provides you a buffer against adverse stress.

There are other terms that you also need to understand in the context of our topic.

Social isolation refers to the being alone with no relative amount of social relationships.

Social integration refers to your overall level of involvement with social relationships, whether within informal (family) or formal (religious group) groups.

Social network refers to the web of social relationships around you, including the type and strength of each relationship.

Quality of relationship refers to the positive and strained aspects of relationships. Emotional support from significant others is an example of a positive quality. Conflict is an example of a strained quality. Each of these aspects of social relationships affects your physical and mental health.

The Link Between Support and Health

Dr. Pratt’s project became one of the earliest studies on the physical and psychological health benefits of social support. Since then, scientists have studied social and emotional support’s influences on health. Although the long-term effects of such support remain to be determined, these effects show promise in influencing the quality of life in many chronic disease patients. The effects of all the social relationships emerged in childhood and cascaded throughout life providing you the cumulative advantage or disadvantage in your health.

If you will gather all the research studies, their findings would show any of the following conclusions:

  • Social relationships sign