How Does Social Support Affect Your Health?
Reaching out to your family or a friend can help you feel connected to others, provide help when struggling with a problem, or support when feeling down. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust can help you feel better, even if they don’t have a solution to your problem. These supportive relationships can also help you feel less alone.
Research also shows that having an active social support network can contribute to positive emotional and physical health and help you deal with stress. Social support can also help you maintain physical and mental health gains you’ve made, which can help you work toward a lasting healthy lifestyle.
However, not all social support is the same. You may find that you turn to specific people for some problems or situations but not others. Having various social supports can help ensure you always have someone you can turn to for support.
Understanding the Different Types of Social Support
Social support is essentially having a network of people, groups, or communities that you can rely on when you’re in need, although everyday supportive interactions are also needed. Support can be verbal or nonverbal. But how do you know if your support system is reliable?
One critical element is having a system that contains relationships you can rely on. The quality of your relationships is typically a better predictor of good health than the number of connections in your network, although both can be important.
Another factor to consider is the types of social support available to you in your network. Not everyone can offer the same kind of help. For instance, if you’re having relationship or dating issues, you may turn to a close friend instead of your parents. If you’re struggling with financial decisions or choices, you may discuss it with your parents.
The different forms of support include:
- Emotional support: This type of support often involves listening and validating your feelings and concerns and reminding you of your worth and value. This kind of support is particularly helpful when you’re stressed, sad, or feeling lonely.
- Informational support: This type of support involves the advice and feedback you receive on your actions or help with making big decisions or changes. This kind of support could be from a trusted mentor.
- Esteem support: This support includes the messages that support and promote your skills, abilities, and intrinsic value.
- Social network support: These are the messages that provide you with a sense of belonging to the group.
- Tangible (or instrumental) support: This typic involves physically providing services or goods you need, like a helping hand. Someone in your network might bring you groceries if you’re sick or take you to an appointment if you don’t have transportation.
How Social Support Can Impact Your Health
When you don’t have a connection with others, it can contribute to loneliness and depression. In fact, feelings of loneliness and poor perceived social support are associated with increased:
- Mortality rates
- Risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
- Chronic pain
- Poor health behaviors and sleep quality
Fortunately, having a strong social support system can provide a buffer against feelings of loneliness and provide you with a resource to help increase your resilience. These factors can also help you live healthier, especially if you are around others who are living a healthy lifestyle.
An effective social support system can help by:
Influencing your choices and behaviors
Social support groups can impact and influence your attitudes and behaviors. If your social group tends to value exercising or eating nutritious foods, you will likely be affected by these views and actions. For example, you may be more likely to order a healthy meal at lunch when you’re with them.
They can also be a source of encouragement and provide guidance when you’re trying to make a healthy change. Studies have found that the right emotional and tangible support can help people start and maintain an exercise routine.
However, sometimes your social support network can have a less helpful influence. The same research has shown that nay-sayers may cause you to engage in healthy behaviors less because of their negative attitudes. Additionally, if people feel overly pressured to exercise, they may be less likely to follow through. Therefore, it’s essential to rely on people in your social support system who provide motivation and support without you feeling pressured. This strategy will help you get the most support to help you build a healthy lifestyle.
Increasing your motivation to maintain your healthy behaviors
Connecting with people who are also going through a similar process, like eating healthier or exercising more, can help provide you with additional motivation. You can feel more motivated to keep working on your goal by seeing other people like you succeeding. Your feelings of confidence and helpfulness also are strengthened when you offer help and advice to others.
Helping you manage and deal with stress
Social support can positively impact on your mood and body, especially when going through stressful tasks or situations. Studies have found that social support can reduce your blood pressure while undergoing stressful tasks and boost your immune system. Research has also shown that spouses with a strong social support network had better immune system functioning than those with low support when caring for a partner with cancer.
When you’re under stress, emotional support can help validate and provide an outlet for your concerns and feelings. Informational and tangible support can also help you by providing guidance and services or resources that may be needed to deal with the situation.
3 Ways to Strengthen Your Social Supports
Having a strong social support network can help your mood, health, and allow you to fully enjoy your life. While it’s helpful for everyone to have a social network, it doesn’t need to be large. A few close friends or family may be the core support you need. Additionally, you also want to make sure that your support system truly cares for you and has your interests at heart.
These three tips can help you strengthen your social support and ensure your system is right for you.
1. Evaluate your social network
Do you think you have enough social support, and can your network provide different types of support? There isn’t one answer to these questions. It’s what honestly works for you.
If you’re feeling isolated or have moved to a new area, try reaching out to expand your network. Consider joining a local group based on what you do or the hobbies you enjoy. You can create a workout network of like minded people who enjoy the same physical activities or share the same health goals.
Building a social network takes patience. You may find you make casual friends with some people, which is great, but they may not be someone you’d turn to when you need help. Building a deeper connection often takes time, but the process is worth it.
2. Let your supports know how they can best support you
If you’re feeling disconnected or unsupported by your social support system, talk with them about how you’re feeling. Your social supports want to be there for you, but it doesn’t mean they can necessarily know what best helps you. Talk with them about the kinds of support you’re needing, so they can help you.
3. Nurture and maintain your social network
To maintain your social support system, you need to be there for them too. These close relationships need to be a two-way street, where everyone feels they are getting the care and support they need. You need to be there for them and stay in touch. Let them know you appreciate them and offer support to them when they need it.
Social Support Can Help Your Health and Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle
Being connected to others who you can rely on can help you manage stress and improve your mood and physical health. Knowing you have social supports you can count on can give you peace of mind and help you stay motivated and encouraged, especially as you strive to create a healthier lifestyle.
You don’t need an extensive social support network to enjoy these benefits. That said, be sure that your system contains people who genuinely have your best interests in mind. Keep your social support active by maintaining the relationship and being there for them as well.