Years ago, there was a comprehensive study done by the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. Part of the study included how World War II troops responded to the intense stress of battle. Soldiers who felt “group identification” or “group cohesiveness” were better able to withstand battle stress. On the other hand, those soldiers who did not feel the connectedness of a small group, or those who’s group was disrupted during battle, were the soldiers that suffered psychiatric breakdown in battle. It was the sustaining influence of others that helped soldiers through the intense stress of battle. Likewise, the support of people that care about us will be one of the strongest indicators of how well we will overcome stressful situations.
In an article produced by the American Institute of Stress, it was reported that “The wisdom of the ages, anecdotal reports, numerous clinical studies, a wealth of epidemiologic data on death rates in married, single and divorced individuals as well as sophisticated psychophysiologic and laboratory testing all confirm that strong social and emotional support is a powerful stress buster that improves health and prolongs life.” Building and developing a strong social support can be a great emotional way to improve your physical health. The same report describes how having a happy marriage or a good long term relationship at age 50 was a leading indicator of being healthy at age 80, but having low cholesterol levels had little significance. This link describes the health benefits that come from social support at different stages of life. Makes you stop and think a little bit, doesn’t it?
It is true that it is difficult to measure social support and to exclude all other factors in the development and recovery of disease, especially chronic disease. However, the evidence of a growing body of studies is proving that social support is not only a factor, but potentially a strong factor in protection from or recovery from illness and chronic stress.