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3 Ways Your Social Life Can Improve Life with MS

By Beth W. Orenstein
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
August 28, 2023

Spending time with family and friends isn’t just enjoyable; research suggests that it can also contribute to good health. Although social interactions are an important way to boost general wellness, they’re especially key to successfully managing chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

The findings of a recent study published in Health and Social Care in the Community indicated that people with MS who had increased interactions with others reported they were in better general health and had greater physical functioning. Researchers posited that social connection and support can make a significant positive impact on the lives of people with MS, promoting physical and emotional health and psychological well‑being.

“We found that being socially active when you have MS is a mood booster,” says study author Lauren B. Strober, Ph.D. a neuropsychologist at the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in Rahway, New Jersey. For some people with MS, being socially active can potentially even help build a greater sense of purpose in life, she adds.

Another study published in January 2021 in the Journal of Neurology similarly suggested that having strong social support was associated with improved mental health and perceived quality of life for people with MS.

“Humans are social animals, and our ability to connect with others contributes to how healthy we are,” says lead study author Victoria M. Leavitt, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor in the department of neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, in New York City.

Still, putting yourself out there can be intimidating, and physical symptoms like fatigue and mobility issues could make it extra challenging. If you’re still looking for good reasons to create and maintain friendships and participate in social activities, here are three specific benefits for people with MS.

1. Could Decrease the Risk of Depression

“Evidence suggests that 1 in 2 people with MS will develop a clinically significant depression over the course of their lifetime,” says Anthony Feinstein, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and author of Mind, Mood, and Memory: The Neurobehavioral Consequences of Multiple Sclerosis. However, Feinstein says that good relationships can sometimes help people with MS cope with any sadness and prevent depression.

Support groups, in particular, can help lift people with MS who may be feeling down or having bad days, says Leavitt. In research by Leavitt, people with MS who participated in online support groups that met once a week for 45 minutes appeared to show a reduction in loneliness and depression after 12 weeks. Findings like these have turned Leavitt into a “huge proponent” of support groups, she says.

2. Can Help Improve Motor Symptoms

Leavitt’s previously mentioned study from the Journal of Neurology suggests that social support can improve not only the mental health of people with MS but also their physical symptoms. In an assessment of 185 people newly diagnosed with MS, women who had social support appeared to be more likely to experience improvements in motor function, particularly their grip strength and gait endurance.

Strober agrees that social support can help some people with MS improve their motor skills. It’s a matter of “use it or lose it,” Strober says. When you’re socially active, you’re not sitting around wallowing in your sorrow. You have to get up and go places and be with people. So, you’re using your motor skills, which can help them improve.

3. May Reduce Pain

Findings from a study published in 2021 in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine indicated that the more social support people with MS had, the less pain they reported.

Researchers identified four major types of support as important for people with MS: someone to confide in, someone to do something enjoyable with, someone to accompany you on trips to the doctor, and someone who’ll help in an emergency situation. In the study, those who had three or fewer of those types of social support were more than three times more likely to report being in pain than those who had all four of the support types.

Researchers suggested that support helps people with MS access services, carry out tasks when their mobility is impaired, and cope with their condition—all of which could help reduce their pain.

Strober adds that social support can put people in a better mood and help the body produce endorphins, also known as feel-good hormones. The release of endorphins may help dampen pain, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Connections Count

Living with MS can be isolating, especially when you don’t know how you’ll feel from one day to the next. Studies suggest that having friends and family you can count on and who understand when you may be having a bad day can be a big help in things you’re dealing with, including low mood, mobility issues, and pain.

So, don’t be afraid to reach out to those who know and care about you, even if it’s just to chat or see a familiar face, or join a support group to help you create additional connections and live your best with MS.

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