Living with an unpredictable disease like MS can affect many aspects of your life. MS makes it harder to do everyday activities and interferes with personal relationships. The fatigue that this condition often brings also makes it harder to spend time with the people you care about.
Staying social can help. Having strong social connections can improve quality of life for people with MS and reduce loneliness. It also makes it easier to cope with the challenges that come with the disease. It might even help improve your health and your ability to manage your MS.
Social support from other people can come in many forms, including:
- calling or texting to see how you’re feeling
- listening to you when you feel down
- taking you out for lunch or to a movie
- reminding you to take your medication or to eat well
This type of support can come from a variety of sources, including:
- family members
- your partner
- members of your religious organization
- support groups of other people living with MS
- mental health providers
Here are six ways staying social can help improve your life with MS.
Depression can have a negative effect on your quality of life. When you’re feeling down, you may stop taking your MS medications, which could make it harder to manage your disease. Sometimes depression even leads to suicidal thoughts or actions.
Social support can help act as a buffer against any challenges or stressors that might come your way.
Fatigue, pain, bladder issues, and walking problems may make it harder for you to get out and spend time with family and friends. But staying at home too often can leave you feeling isolated and lonely. And loneliness can worsen any depression you’re already dealing with.
Having social support helps you feel less alone. Knowing there is someone to call when you’re in pain or feeling down can go a long way toward preventing loneliness and improving your mood.
Most people with MS — about 80% — experience fatigue, making it one of the most common MS symptoms. Tiredness is also one of the most disabling MS symptoms. It disrupts every part of life, from work to social activities.
Taking naps during the day and scheduling activities at times when you have the most energy are ways to manage fatigue. A strong support system might also help, by having people to step in when you need a hand with daily activities.
Pain is another common MS symptom. It can come in the form of headaches, back pain, nerve pain, and muscle spasms. Other factors, like stress, anxiety, and fatigue can also worsen pain.
People who have less social support experience more pain, research finds. One study looked at the benefits to people with MS of having four types of support:
- someone to confide in or talk to
- someone to do something fun with
- someone who can attend doctor appointments
- someone who can help in an emergency
People who had three or fewer of these support types were three times more likely to be in pain than those who had all four types of support. Study authors report that having support promotes self-efficacy, or the belief that you can improve your own health.
Sleep is important for your physical and mental health. Yet MS can contribute to sleep troubles. The stress and anxiety of living with a chronic condition plus MS symptoms like pain and frequent urination can make it harder to drift off and stay asleep all night.
Research shows that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people with MS who got together with friends slept better than those who didn’t have positive social interactions.
Social support has a protective effect on the lives of people with MS.
Being surrounded by those who care for you can make you feel more satisfied with your life and help you cope better with the challenges of your condition. Having social support can also give you hope that you can successfully manage your disease.
A 2021 study of 185 people who were recently diagnosed with MS linked greater social support with a higher quality of life. People who had more support also reported better mental health and cognitive function, and less fatigue than those without social support.
Social support is important when you have MS. Having people who have your back can help you feel better, both mentally and physically. If you’re not sure you have the support you need, take a look at your social network.
You can widen that network by reaching out to friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and others who care about you. If you don’t already have a strong support system, look for a support group or peer counselor through an organization like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.