Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Living with diabetes can feel like a lonely road. Having to be on a diet no one else in your house has to follow. The ups and downs of managing your numbers. The emotions the challenges of diabetes can bring up.

Sure, friends and family members can listen and offer encouragement, but there’s nothing quite like being able to turn to other diabetics and ask, “What’s it like for you?” After all, nobody “gets it” better than someone who is traveling this road beside you.

But how do you find these people? Your community might not offer diabetes support groups, and even if it does, it can be a challenge to fit one in with work and all the other demands of your busy life. Life in today’s world is all about convenience. And what’s more convenient than going online for support?

An online social health network connects you with other people from all walks of life, from all over the US, and even the world, at any time. Men, women, young, not so young, type 1, type 2, newly-diagnosed, and diabetes veterans. You’re certain to find other diabetics to share experiences with and learn from. Support is power!

The Internet is always open, so you can connect with your support network 24/7. From your computer, your tablet, or your smartphone. Support is there when you need it, wherever you need it, and it’s free!

How an online diabetes support group can help you

Here are some of the ways you can benefit from an online support community:

Cope with emotions. Having one of those days when you just feel overwhelmed with it all? Scared about the future? If you’re having a rough time and need some TLC, social health networks are a great place to get emotional support. Share the feelings that the people in your life aren’t so comfortable talking about, vent if you need to, or celebrate a victory. Your fellow travelers are there to share the struggles and the successes!

Keep your self-care regimen on track. Need some help taming those food cravings? Advice for how to keep your exercise program on track? Day-to-day diabetic self-care can be a real challenge. If you feel like you’re hitting a wall, then maybe it’s time to reach out to your online support network and see who has suggestions.

Find out about new resources. Looking for some information on a new medication? Tired of eating the same thing and want to spice up your diet? Post a discussion and see who jumps in with some suggestions or links to where you can find out more. Some social health network sites also provide great articles and news.

Learn how to be an advocate. Not sure how to ask for what you need from your doctor? Want to encourage other diabetics to speak up for themselves? Social health networks provide lots of opportunities to build up your empowerment muscles and help others to do the same.

And don’t forget that online communities are not just for those who are living with diabetes. Partners, other family members, and parents of diabetic children can also find resources and support when they need it most.

Certified Diabetic Educators (CDE) have long recognized the value of social health networks. “Patients who are engaged in social health networks feel less isolated and lonely because they are part of a community,” said Amy Reeder, a dietician and CDE. “They tend to feel less emotional stress about their diagnosis, and they further benefit from sharing their personal experiences to assist others. Social health networks also help reinforce some of the concepts I teach my patients.”

Getting started

Getting started in a social health network is easy. All you have to do is jump into the discussions, or start one yourself. You can even stay on the sidelines and read what other people are saying if you’re not yet ready to take the plunge. It’s up to you! Not comfortable identifying yourself? No problem. On most online communities, you will be identified by a “nickname” that you choose, and you won’t be asked to provide any other identifying information. No pressure!

Ready to get connected? The leading social health network for diabetics is DiabeticConnect.com, with more than 700,000 members. In addition to an online support community, Diabetic Connect offers articles, diabetic-friendly recipes, and even social media apps to help you stay connected on the run. On Diabetic Connect, you are anonymous, so you can feel confident that when you choose to share personal information or experiences your identity is protected.

Get support along the road ahead. Reach out. Scroll. Touch. Click. Connect. We’re stronger together!