Updated: Sep 20
Even if you're a certified introvert, chances are you've cultivated at least a small circle of friends and family you can count on. But did you know that social support is good for your health?
Several studies have shown that social support has been linked to better health outcomes. It turns out there are many ways that having supportive friends and family can help us heal mentally and physically. In this article, we'll talk about four specific ways social support can improve our well-being.
What is Social Support?
Social support is a system of family, friends, neighbors, and the community available to give you psychological, physical, and financial help, especially in devasting and stressful times. It is fundamentally about having someone by your side to boost you when you're at your weakest. Someone willing to raise you up, ready to cry with you, and can relate to what you're going through.
Social support aims to help you grow or change for the better. It demonstrates the importance of friendships and the various social groupings we are a part of. In your most uncertain moments, friends will always serve as a source of inspiration and a reminder of the value of life.
Social support is nonprofessional resources available in the form of personal relationships and social support groups.
Types of Social Support
However, there are various ways we may help one another sort out our feelings and develop the mental and physical fortitude to keep going.
1. Emotional Support
This type of social support tops them all and is the most common we always receive from friends. There will be a moment when you are stressed emotionally; all you need is a hug or one-on-one talk with your spouse or friend. A little encouragement from your close friends and family would put you back on track to rerun your race.
2. Informational Support
Sometimes all you need to know is information about something to keep up. In most cases, it could be an online encounter with inspirational information that might help you relate and connect to what you are going through. There are different ways to be supported through information, for example, by reading a book or an article to drive your dopamine levels.
3. Tangible Support
To put yourself in a position where you can do someone a favor, tangible support is crucial. Sometimes you need your friends and family's practical help when facing a difficult situation. For instance, going for a walk together while discussing problems or inviting them to dinner could show them you know what they are going through.
4. Esteem Support
There are times when you need some inspiration or motivation to keep going. This kind of societal support is typically given to people who have somehow failed to recognize who they are and what they can achieve if they believe and put in the effort. We'll need people who have faith in us and compliment us when we do better.
How Social Support Helps You Heal
1. Social support can decrease stress
Social support can help you cope with a stressful event, manage your stress, and lower your stress levels. The process of recovery from a difficult situation is often easier when you have someone to lean on. If you've just experienced or witnessed a traumatic event and feel overwhelmed by emotion, having someone to talk to can provide the comfort needed for healing. The same goes for situations that cause us daily anxiety or tension—social support can give us the relief we need so we don't feel like our emotions are getting out of control.
Research shows that social support lowers our cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increases oxytocin (the bonding hormone), reducing stress-related symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, weight gain/loss issues, etc. In fact, studies show that social connection may even reduce mortality rates among those with heart disease!
2. Social support can help us recover from medical procedures
Social support can also help us recover from medical procedures. Studies show that people who had heart surgery could recover quickly and be less likely to expire or be re-hospitalized within the year after their surgery if they had a good social support system.
The same goes for breast cancer patients. Women who have high levels of social support have better outcomes with their treatment than those who don’t. A strong network of family and friends is associated with a stronger immune system and faster recovery, which helps your body fight off illness and disease.
3. Social support can lower our mortality risk
Social support can lower your mortality risk by up to 50%. In a study published by the British Medical Journal, researchers found that social support can reduce mortality risk in people with heart disease and depression.
It can also decrease mortality risk for those diagnosed with cancer or HIV. Additionally, social connection is associated with reduced mortality risk in smokers trying to quit smoking.
4. Social support can help with smoking cessation
Smoking cessation is no easy feat, especially for those who have been smoking for many years and are using smoking habits to mask a mental health ailment. Anxiety is the number one cause of smoking cigarettes because the nicotine in the tobacco calms the nervous system.
If you don't have many friends or are seeking to make new friends, there are several online sites and apps that can assist:
If you want to improve your health, improving your social connections is a good place to start. The next time you find yourself struggling with a problem or feeling anxious or depressed, consider contacting a friend or family member for help.
They might be able to offer encouragement and advice on how to work through your problems in a way that's healthy for both of you. Even if you or your friend/family member have no words to express, just being in the presence of another person you trust will give you comfort and easement.
Finally, social support is a powerful force for good mental well-being. Feel free to chat with a friend or spouse after a stressful day. Have a weekend off at a friend’s house to change your environment.
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