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Increase Your Social Support

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Health Benefits of Social Support | Other Benefits | Assess Your Social Support | How to Find Support

Social support refers to a person’s network of relationships with other people. It can be defined in terms of:

  • Quantity—how many relationships a person has
  • Quality—the type of relationships a person has and how satisfied a person is with those relationships

Health Benefits of Social Support

Studies have found that social support often plays a role in health and well-being. Many researchers believe that social support can help:

  • Improve mental and emotional well-being
  • Reduce stress and stress-related illnesses
  • Improve recovery from illness
  • Increase immunity (resistance to disease)

Other Benefits

Other benefits that may be derived from social support include:

  • Companionship
  • Emotional support
  • Assistance
  • Financial or material help
  • Information and advice

Assess Your Social Support

Take a look at your current social network. Assess your level of satisfaction with the quantity and quality of your relationships.

How satisfied are you with the number of relationships you have and the amount of time you socialize with others?

  • How many close and/or dependable relationships do you have with people within one hour’s drive from your home? Consider relationships with:
    • Family
    • Friends
    • Neighbors
    • Coworkers
    • Others
  • Do you spend time with someone who does not live with you?
  • Do you talk to friends or relatives on the phone, via email, or text message?
  • Do you go to meetings, social clubs, or other groups?
  • Do you belong to online social networking sites or support groups for people with similar life situations?

How satisfied are you in your relationships with family and friends? In the majority of these relationships, do you feel that you are:

  • Understood
  • Loved, or at least appreciated
  • Heard
  • Informed
  • Useful
  • Able to talk about your deepest problems (with at least some of them)
  • That you have a definite role or place
  • Able to be yourself

How to Find Support

Almost everyone can benefit from some type of social skills training. Consider classes, therapy, and books that can help you:

  • Overcome social fears or phobias
  • Become more assertive
  • Develop higher self-esteem
  • Initiate and sustain conversations
  • Deepen relationships through self-disclosure and empathy

Getting involved in activities in your community is a great way to meet people. Here are some ideas:

  • Local night schools, colleges, and universities may offer a variety of enrichment classes (for example, acting, cake decorating, rock climbing, writing). You can learn a new skill, make new friends, and share your interests with others.
  • Join a church or spiritual group. These can be great places to meet others. Many people also find that they feel less lonely and more connected when they develop their spiritual interests.
  • Actively participate in a group. Speak up, take a key position, or volunteer to head up special events.

The following are some ideas to help you get to know people in your neighborhood and community.

  • Go for walks in your neighborhood. Say hello to neighbors and introduce yourself.
  • Shop regularly at neighborhood stores and shops.
  • Become a “regular” at a local park, beach, coffeehouse, museum, or sporting event.
  • Consider hosting a block party. Send invitations to your neighbors.
  • Start a community improvement project or run for office.
  • Join a local health club or sports team.

By risking a little, you can gain a lot. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Talk to other people first and don’t let fear of rejection stop you. Look for something to start a conversation. Let your personality show.
  • Don’t be afraid to respond to strangers who initiate conversation, as long as they don’t seem overly aggressive or dangerous.
  • Your friends don’t have to be just like you. Consider friends of both sexes. Open yourself up to people from various age groups and cultures.

Support groups are for people who share a common problem. Most communities have support groups concerning issues such as divorce, bereavement, single parenting, alcoholism, cancer, caregiving, etc. Consider forming your own group. You can find resources at your local library or online.

Volunteers are needed almost everywhere—hospitals, nursing homes, charities, churches, and so on. Contribute your talents to a cause that makes you happy. Create your own opportunity.

A compatible roommate can ease some of the loneliness, as well as share some expenses. Interview potential roommates carefully. If you’re looking for a place to live, pay attention to signs of friendly housing.

Once relationships develop, they must be maintained—something that takes time and effort. Here are some tips:

  • Keep in touch on a regular basis (call, write, or get together).
  • Work together on a project or hobby.
  • Remember that different people are comfortable with different levels of intimacy. Gauge the level of intimacy that works for both parties.
  • Share feelings, memories, dreams, disappointments, experiences, and humor.
  • Listen and allow the other person to share.
  • Give the relationship time to grow.
  • Keep working on developing the relationship, even if it’s uncomfortable at times.

Many people find that a pet helps to fulfill their needs for warmth, affection, and companionship.

RESOURCES:

American Psychological Association

http://www.apa.org/

Mental Health America

http://www.nmha.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Psychological Association

http://www.cpa.ca/

References:

Review of research challenges assumption that success makes people happy: happiness may lead to success via positive emotions. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2005/12/success.aspx. Accessed June 2, 2008.

Lyumbomirsky S, King L, Denier E. The benefits of frequent positive affect: does happiness lead to success? Psych. 2005;131(6):803-855. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1316803.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2012.

Mind/body health: stress. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx. Accessed June 2, 2008.

Stress management. Social support: tap this tool to combat stress. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/social-support/SR00033. Updated June 23, 2010. Accessed May 30, 2012.

Last reviewed May 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.