By Randy Moraitis, MA, CIP, BCPC
Our social support system is truly a key factor in both our mental and physical health. Having a lot of friends on Facebook may be fun, but it is not a true social support system. Here is a quick look at what social support is, and why it is so important.
What is Social Support?
Definition of social support: social support is the perception and actuality that one is cared for, has assistance available from other people, and is part of a supportive social network.
There are four different types of social support, and each of these is very important. As you’re thinking about the health of your social support network, you want to think about the structure, but you also need to determine whether or not you have all four kinds of these supports readily available.
The first kind of support is emotional support. This is where you have someone who will listen to you and will give you a shoulder to cry on. We need those emotional support providers.
The second kind of support is informational support. Sometimes we need someone to bounce ideas off of or we need people to provide us with advice about our situation.
The third type of support is tangible, or practical, support. This is someone who might not be skilled emotional support or who might not be a good problem solver or advice giver, but they can at least help you cook dinner or do some chores or tasks.
The fourth type of support is companionship or belonging support. Feeling isolated is difficult and unhealthy. In this type of support this isn’t the individual that you necessarily tell all of your problems to, but it is someone who is willing and able to spend time with you. This is that person who calls for no reason, and you feel connected.
Social Support and Our Health
Numerous studies link our social support systems to our mental and physical health. When you think about it, it seems obvious that our social networks—the people we spend the most time with—strongly influence our behaviors. Behaviors with long term consequences like smoking, diet, and exercise.
Research shows that lower social support is related to greater cognitive impairment and disability in adults. Conversely, strong social support equals a much better chance of survival after a heart attack as well as lower mortality risk among women with breast cancer. In addition, during pregnancy, greater social support is linked to fewer labor complications and better birth outcomes.
Take a moment to honestly assess your current social support system. If you do not have people in your life that can provide emotional, informational, practical and companionship support then perhaps it’s time to get out there and join a support group, club, church, or class where you can connect with healthy people. My goal as a coach, counselor and interventionist is to help people be the healthiest version of themselves. You can only be your best with a strong social support system.
Special thanks to the work of Jason M. Satterfield, PhD for info in this post.