What does the daily well-being of people with HIV depend on?
Major differences are observed in affective states and coping with the infection among patients who receive the same treatment and have nearly identical medical indicators describing the course of the disease.
The results of research conducted until now do not answer the question why – despite the same medical diagnosis and after control of clinical indicators (e.g. CD4 lymphocyte count, viremia level) – such significant differences exist in the level of psychological well-being among people living with HIV.
People living with HIV experience primarily negative consequences of the disease. Their lives may in fact be dominated by the intense chronic stressstemming from the awareness of being infected with HIV. This assumption probably resulted in the neglect of the everyday functioning of this patients in the studies conducted until now. Widely used research methodologies were another obstacle to a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in the daily coping with HIV.
Data analysis methods in the form of online diary measurements have been implemented in health psychology studies relatively recently. They allow researchers to capture individual differences in the everyday functioning of various groups of patients.
One important issue is whether the social support received or given daily may be related to stress and emotional state reported by people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of the day.We also examined whether the above-mentioned effect would be stronger for persons remaining in close romantic relationships than in singles.
To answer these questions, in November 2016 we conducted the first online diary study. It involved a relatively large group for the clinical context, consisting of 115 people with HIV. During five consecutive days the participants described their emotional state, stress related to everyday hassles as well as social support received and provided.
The results proved to be very interesting for both, the participants and the researchers. It was found out that giving social support (e.g. to a partner) is more strongly linked to the emotional state and stress at the end of the day than receiving such support. This result confirms the adaptative role of giving support, which is also found in other groups of patients.
A particularly interesting result concerned the second research question, that is the positive effect of social support was limited only to those participants who at the time of the study were in close romantic relationships. These participants felt better and experienced less stress on the days when they reported giving or receiving more social support than usual.
Surprisingly, a paradoxical effect of everyday support was recorded in singles. On days with higher than typical levels of given or received support they reported both worse emotional well-being and higher stress.
The protective effect of being in a close relationship as well as the aggravating effect of being single single were revealed. Therefore, the results corroborate the fact that relationship status modifies the relations between social support, stress and emotions.
Why was it different for singles?
Probably in the case of singles receiving and giving support entails greater costs than in the case of individuals in close relationships. For singles, getting support requires a greater disclosure of their needs, while providing support is not necessarily reciprocated. Moreover, they may only count on time-limited support whereas the essence of ongoing close relationships is the so-called invisible support, which not only appears spontaneously but also its exchange is smooth and natural. For example, individuals who live on their own are less likely to be spontaneously hugged and served afternoon tea by someone who just sees a sad expression on their face. It is also possible that increased intensity of social interactions in itself becomes a source of additional stress and deterioration of well-being for singles.
However, all the above explanations require verification.
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