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Written by
Paige Milatz
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche

Take a moment and think about the last time you had a highly engaging, supportive conversation — one that made you feel empowered to continue reaching your highest level of wellbeing, while holistically managing your autoimmune disorder. Did the conversation happen in a doctor’s office? Over Zoom? With a spouse, a family member, a caring friend? How did the conversation make you feel? Maybe that you felt grounded, that you were not only heard, but listened to — and understood.

If you haven’t yet considered joining an autoimmune support group, it might be time. Making a support group part of your lifestyle can help you create more positive interactions like the one you just brought to mind. The power of a caring group of people capable of supporting your autoimmune journey is a breath of fresh air while living with an autoimmune diagnosis — or while waiting for the diagnosis to be determined. As humans, we thrive when we have people to rely on and trust in times of need, ones who understand our unique situation.

In this article, we’ll talk about what an autoimmune support group is, how it’s connected to your wellbeing, and how to take action to see the benefits for yourself.

woman with her eyes closed with a hand brushing against her face

What Is an Autoimmune Support Group?

The most common support groups usually aid people with addictions, mental health challenges, or parenting struggles. But with autoimmune disease prevalence on the rise, there is a growing need for support groups tailored to people with 1 or more of nearly 100 autoimmune conditions. (Source, Source)

Autoimmune support groups exist to provide community and compassion around diseases that are often invisible, chronic, and painful. Though the outcome can be therapeutic, support groups are different from therapy because they are typically self-led by peers, health coaches, or other integrative care practitioners — not by a licensed therapist. An autoimmune support group is a safe, non-judgmental space to be supported by individuals with similar experiences or diagnoses, finding comfort, ideas, and even new friendships along the way. (Source)

three people next to each other holding hands

Why Is Community Support Important?

Connection is a basic human need — we thrive when we have a strong and supportive social circle to lean on. Research has found that feeling connected can lead to a lengthy list of health benefits. From lower blood pressure and BMI to improved overall mental health, being socially integrated is a major factor in your health and wellness. One study even suggests that health care providers could benefit their patients by writing “connection prescriptions” to help improve health outcomes through meaningful interactions! (Source)  

Community support is so important that Healthy People 2030, a set of objectives determined by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, includes a specific goal to increase social and community support during this decade. Social cohesion is a priority area because of the health-boosting impacts that positive social connections provide. If you’re more of the introverted type, the evidence shows that you could greatly benefit from stepping outside your comfort zone and forming quality bonds with a supportive group of people. (Source, Source)  

person sitting on grass

Why Should I Be Part of an Autoimmune Support Group?

If you’ve been dealing with autoimmune symptoms for a while, you’re no stranger to the underlying pain and burden of autoimmune disorders — on mind, body, and spirit. So if you feel like you’re searching for more social connection to improve your health and wellbeing, it may be time to consider joining an autoimmune support group, and here are 3 good reasons why:

  • Support groups are a proven way to help reduce treatment costs and rates of rehospitalization. We all know the high price of conventional medical care. Support groups offer an affordable way to round out your care plan without adding the high cost of another professional service.
  • Support groups are empowering by nature. Participants come to the group as equals, ready to share information, stories, and lived experiences, instead of relying solely on recommendations from a medical provider.
  • The benefits aren’t limited to group meetings! The friendly interactions, social bonding, and empathy that are key to a support group may lead you to grow your friend circle and gain close friendships that you devote time to outside of scheduled meetings.

(Source)

See Real Results With Community-Based Care

If you’re more of the see-to-believe type, look no further: WellTheory has been using a community-based care model that participants have found to be an essential part of their autoimmune journey.

One member, Nicole, shared part of her story: “The community aspect really helped me work more on the lifestyle factors, especially stress management.” She found the validation and team spirit that she was looking for while also achieving her lowest-ever inflammatory blood test results.

Interested in empathetic, community-based autoimmune care?

Get connected with a Care Team who also has autoimmunity and chronic illness while meeting other members on their healing journey, just like you.

Learn more

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The Connection Between an Autoimmune Support Group and Your Wellbeing

Autoimmune diseases go beyond physical symptoms. People living with autoimmune disorders are more vulnerable to mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. That makes it critical to develop healthy coping strategies that combat the feelings of isolation from mental health struggles, as well as the physical isolation that can occur from symptoms such as fatigue or medication side effects. (Source)

Feelings of isolation and even mild episodes of depression can unleash stress responses in the body, elevating cortisol levels and creating a compounding effect, in which perceived pain becomes harder to deal with and motivation to stick to your treatment plan is at risk. However, if you feel your mental health symptoms are a barrier to achieving your optimal state of wellness, it’s important to reach out to your medical provider. Share your concerns with them and let them help you determine the best way forward. (Source, Source)

Because autoimmune diseases affect every dimension of overall wellness, a supportive social network is important in maintaining positive emotions, self-image, and connection to the bigger picture. So, what better way to soothe your mind and help your symptoms than with a supportive group of people who are actively doing their best to take care of themselves, just like you? Deep healing can occur with a support system that holds you as a unique person — an individual, but not alone.

a person's hand touching their own shoulder

How to Seek Out an Autoimmune Support Group

Start by seeing what support systems already exist in your life. Communicating openly with your loved ones about your autoimmune disease can bring understanding, relief, and validation from the people who matter most to you. Taking time to reflect on your feelings can be a great catharsis and lead to healing, and to include your loved ones in that conversation shows them that they’re an integral part of achieving your optimal wellness. (Source, Source)

Beyond your preexisting relationships, the benefits of an autoimmune support group on your overall wellness will depend on your investment in the group. It can feel daunting to be a newcomer to any group setting, but it’s important to remember the ties you already have to the group, rather than the differences. Maybe other participants are moms, or grandmas, or have the same diagnosis or have eliminated the same foods. You’ll sense that you’ve found your place once the stories and laughter start flowing.

Finding an Autoimmune Support Group

So, how do you go about finding an autoimmune support group? See what support systems already exist around you, build yourself into one, or establish one yourself. Maybe one already exists in your community, such as a weekly gathering at a local community center or church that you’ve read about but never visited. Or perhaps you’ll find a treasure trove of outpouring support and connection if you search your social media feed for existing groups and pages. You could even potentially start one on your own after gathering interest from friends or acquaintances who have similar health needs.  

Here are a few organizations to kickstart your research:

  • Global Autoimmune Institute: This organization has a monthly virtual support group meeting called Autoimmune Aware.
  • Autoimmune Association: A nonprofit that founded the National Coalition of Autoimmune Patient Groups. Look through their list of partners to see if a group stands out to you!
  • Autoimmune Community Institute: This nonprofit offers a monthly support group with a focus on inclusion, advocacy, and health equity.

And lucky for you, WellTheory is made with an autoimmune support group in mind. As a member, you have access to the WellTogether community made up of members, Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, and Health Coaches who are working to holistically manage their autoimmune symptoms. Our care is based on the healing power of both food, lifestyle, and community — and it just may be the right step in your autoimmune journey.

The Bottom Line on Autoimmune Support Groups

Support groups play a crucial role in beneficial health outcomes, from boosting social connections, through expressing yourself, to lowering feelings of isolation and loneliness. Autoimmune diseases are complicated, but autoimmune support groups are a simple, useful tool to approach your health with a fresh sense of empowerment, personal growth, and connectivity with others.

We meet you where you are.

Learn about our personalized approach to autoimmune care by scheduling a call.

Stay empowered with the latest and greatest from WellTheory.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
January 23, 2023

Can an Autoimmune Support Group Enhance Your Wellbeing?

From gaining friends to boosting mental health, learn how an autoimmune support group can offer major benefits.
Medically Reviwed
Written by
Paige Milatz
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche
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