Social support is providing care, assistance, and resources to others, usually friends and loved ones. Social support can come in various forms, but most important are emotional and instrumental aid. Emotional support can be the most beneficial aspect of having strong relationships. It includes the actions others take to make you feel cared for. When receiving emotional support, you have a safe place to share your feelings and be truthful without judgment. It provides a sense of security when times are rough. Instrumental support is physical aid such as monetary, transportation, or childcare. Soliciting this type of support can be difficult. You feel that you cannot ask for or do not need help from those around you, despite giving such support to others. You give but don’t take.
Research has shown that social support wards off the effects of a number of health problems, including depression and anxiety. However, many of us are not connected with others or do not regularly use the network we have. In today’s society, there is less of a sense of community than ever before. Many of us do not even know our neighbors! We are less focused on building relationships with others and have not strengthened the ones we do have because we are too focused on our daily grind. You may have five hundred Facebook friends but only one or two actual friends you can count on when the chips are down. You have to do better!
It is not as easy as it once was to meet people with similar interests and maintain closeness. In an era where social networking is at an all-time high, surveys show that connectedness is at an all-time low. I’m not saying social media is a negative thing, especially when reaching those who may be geographically distant. However, to develop true bonds that build strong supports, you must put in the work, time, and energy. Once formed, these relationships can offer the stability you need to progress in all areas of your life.
It is imperative that you use your network to provide the support you need to achieve your potential. There is no “who can do everything themselves” contest, so you do not have to be a martyr. If you’re not convinced, here are some of the many benefits of building and using a support network:
- A sense of connection
Having a close network of supports can provide a sense of belonging and prevent isolation. Being around like-minded individuals delivers instant access to advice, information, and, in some cases, commiseration. It reminds you that you are not alone in a world full of chaos. It is reassuring to know that you have people there if you ever need a listening ear. Or maybe just someone to laugh with! Sometimes you just need to be around folks you can be yourself with. It also doesn’t hurt that they often remind you of how wonderful you are and toot your horn. Ladies, you need that encouragement every now and then to remember how amazing you are.
- Stress reduction
It is well documented that social support is a coping mechanism that leads to significant reductions in stress.5 When we see our friends and close loved ones, we experience a rise in neurotransmitters and hormones that make us feel good. This in turn decreases the presence of negative emotions and stress. Girls’ night out can literally make it all better! Receiving emotional and tangible support when juggling your responsibilities leads to stress reduction by diminishing role conflicts. In other words, when you have someone to lean on in times of need, it reduces issues with competing roles and priorities. Calling a friend to babysit or having your parent make a cake for the bake sale can relieve a sense of desperation. And you do not have to feel guilty about it! You can also use your network to problem solve and manage difficult situations. Your connections may have some input or be able to jump in and lend a hand. Take that hand!
Resilience is the ability to adapt well when confronted with difficult or trying situations. You are resilient when you are able to face and conquer adversity. Having strong relationships and supports is a known protective factor when dealing with misfortune. When dealing with tragedy or traumatic events, from financial difficulties to severe illness, you are more likely to rebound and get back to a stable place when you have people in your corner. Your network can provide encouragement, resources, supervision, and direction as needed. Having support has been shown to enhance immune function and increase endorphins, making you more likely to manage stress, survive illness, and tolerate pain. In fact, studies in cancer Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease show a better prognosis and survival rate for patients with strong and active support systems. This is also true with depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Our confidants are literally lifesavers!