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Start Building a Strong Support System

Ever since the dawn of civilization, humans have always relied on one another during times of crisis. Our ability to support each other and grow as a community is what helped us to survive and thrive in a world where weakness and vulnerability meant certain death. The world has certainly become a lot safer than it used to be. However, we still need a robust support system if we wish to overcome difficulties and enjoy a stress-free life. In fact, many healthcare professionals believe that social support plays a crucial role in physical and mental health. It can speed up recovery, cultivate hope and improve patients’ overall sense of well-being.

What is a Social Support System?

A social support system represents an essential factor in maintaining physical, mental and affective balance which are often threatened by adversity. It’s kind of difficult to enjoy a pleasant, stress-free life in the absence of social support; let alone achieve personal and professional growth.

A study that was published in Epidemiology & Community Health in 2016 revealed that social support is a predictor of better mental health. Researchers have also discovered that the negative aspects of social relationships may lead to poor mental health.

Aside from contributing to our overall mental health, social support presents plenty of other benefits as well. Your close friends or family members could (for instance) help you find a better job, deal with a tough breakup or even lend you some money when you’re behind on your bills.

The Importance of a Strong Support Group

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second. No matter how careful we are and no matter how much we prepare, we simply can’t avoid every adversity that life throws down our path.

That’s why having people around who love and care about us can be a real blessing. We’ve all been there. Down in the dumps, feeling like you’ve hit rock bottom. Social support is what gives you the “push” you need to overcome life’s adversities and regain control of the situation.

For teenagers and adolescents, support systems are especially important. Close support groups (comprised of family members or friends) can create the perfect climate for personal, academic or professional growth. This type of group can also act as a buffer against all sorts of difficulties in life.

A 2016 study, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, concluded that perceived social support and mental health often go hand in hand. More specifically; it indicated that adolescents with a history of bullying victimization find it easier to cope with anxiety and adjust to college, if they receive support from their families.

The evidence that supports a strong link between support systems and mental health is quite overwhelming. For instance, a study that was published in Social Science & Medicine, specifically evaluated social support for employed and unemployed individuals. This study shed a little light on some interesting findings. It indicated that when we’re dealing with unemployment, social support may actually serve as a protective measure against mental health issues.

Types of Social Support

Let’s take a closer look the main benefits of social support systems.

Emotional Support

One of the key areas where support systems prove to be the most useful is mental health. Problems like stress, depression and anxiety can impact some of the crucial aspects of your everyday life.

It’s difficult to enjoy a satisfying romantic relationship or work on your big dreams when you are under serious emotional distress. For that reason, emotional support represents a definitive factor in both health and success.

A recent article in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, discussed the relationship between support systems and depression. The authors suggested that high-quality social connections with friends and family members was associated with a reduced likelihood of depression in the past year.

There’s no shame in asking for help when your life has taken a turn for the worse. You can always find someone who is willing to lend a helping hand or empathetic ear. It is, however, important that you’re open to letting others be there for you.

Practical Help

When you are dealing with stress and adversity, finding practical solutions to overcome your problems may prove to be extremely difficult. It’s hard to put aside your unpleasant emotions and approach challenges or obstacles with a clear head.

Furthermore, being entirely absorbed by your perceptions could be preventing you from finding original solutions. In times like these, friends or family members can offer an outside perspective. This will allow you to see the problem from a different angle, which could help you to come up with alternative solutions.

A social support system creates the ideal climate for people to share opinions, exchange ideas and tackle challenges as a group. When you are dealing with a tough situation, you need as much input as you can get.

Informational Support

Life has taught us that knowledge is power and that information is the key to any problem. No matter how challenging it may seem.

Being part of a close social support system grants you access to more than one perspective from which you can approach a difficult situation. You can receive constructive feedback, valuable information and practical tips on how to overcome anything that’s preventing you from living a fulfilling life.

Remember, it was through collaboration that our ancestors managed to survive and build a thriving civilization. Regardless of the challenges and dilemmas you may be facing right now, there’s always someone who can offer you insightful answers. All you need to do is ask and be prepared to listen.

Support System

Support System: Benefits for Psychological Health

Let’s explore the ways in which a strong support system could benefit your psychological health.

Decision-Making Process

There are times when difficult situations and personal struggles can affect your judgment and limit your ability to make smart decisions. Problems like anxiety or stress can have a direct impact on your decision-making and the results can quickly turn against you. That’s when you need someone with a fresh opinion who can help you adopt a new perspective. Someone who can guide you towards making decisions that are not influenced by your own mental filters.

If you feel like you’re in a dark place, it would perhaps be wiser to consult with someone you trust before making any big decisions. Making decisions in this state could result in severe consequences for your well-being and personal growth.

Coping With Stress

The studies that were mentioned earlier have clearly shown that social support is one of the key ingredients in the development of robust mental health.

When it comes to everyday stress, having someone who understands your struggles can be extremely therapeutic. In fact, if you are lucky enough to have a reliable support system you are less likely to struggle with everyday stress. Moreover, you also have a smaller chance of developing more serious problems like depression and anxiety disorders. This is not because you are somehow sheltered from life’s hassles but, instead, because you’re surrounded by people who can cheer you up and make life a bit easier for you.

Motivation

It’s virtually impossible to achieve the life you’ve always dreamed of without having the motivation to keep on hustling through thick and thin. This is where friends, family members or life partners come into play. The people who love and appreciate you the most can be your biggest fans. Not just when things are going great for you but also when life has knocked you down.

In the end, we all need someone to cheer for us and have faith in our endeavors.

Things To Consider Before Joining a Social Support Network

Before joining a social support network, make sure the people that are part of the group can:

  • Be empathetic and emotionally available
  • Provide constructive feedback
  • Refrain from criticism and negative remarks
  • Be assertive

5 Ways To Build Your Social Support System

Building your social support group is not always an easy task. Let’s have a look at ways in which building a successful support system can be made a bit simpler.

Really Get To Know The People Around You

A social support system can be made up of virtually anyone. This may include family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers or even people from online support groups. Don’t miss out on really getting to know some of the people who are already part of your life. Take the time to know them better. These are most likely the people who are going to be there for you when the going gets tough.

Seek Out Peer Support

Seeking out peer support is one of the best ways in which you can receive authentic support. No one understands you better than the people with whom you spend most of your time. They are the ones who really know you and they can offer you authentic emotional support along with useful tips. Sometimes, a classmate or coworker can be more supportive and empathetic than a close friend or family member.

Take Advantage of Technology

Nowadays, there are plenty of online support groups where you can find like-minded people who resonate with your struggles; people who’ve been through the same struggles as you. You can look for Facebook groups, chat rooms or forums where people share their stories, exchange ideas and support each other emotionally. The internet opens the door to unlimited possibilities. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

Follow Your Interests

You may be dealing with difficult things in your life right now. Regardless of this, it’s important to stick to your path and never stop following your interests. Sooner or later you will meet like-minded people who share your vision and who wish to contribute to your dream. All you need to do is share, be open-minded, ask for feedback and be open to letting others help you achieve the things you want to achieve.

Expand Your Social Network

The more people you meet, the bigger your chances are of finding someone who can guide and support you. Expanding your social network is all about interacting with others, listening to their stories, understanding their struggles and creating an emotional bond with them. As a result, people will return the favor by providing you with the support you need to live a joyous and satisfying life.

Keep in mind that this strategy works just like a two-way street. In other words, if you want others to be supportive you should also be prepared to return the favor. That’s how social systems evolve.

The Power of Social Support

No matter how smart and adaptable we think we are, life will always find a way to prove us wrong. When that happens, being part of a group that can support you (financially, emotionally or in whatever way) is what will keep you afloat.

Forget about being an island. Focus on building a strong social support system and you will always have someone who is ready to lend you a helping hand when the going gets tough.

 

References:

  1. C. Hakulinen, L. Pulkki-Råback, M. Jokela, J. E. Ferrie, A.-M. Aalto, M. Virtanen, M. Kivimäki, J. Vahtera and M. Elovainio, “Structural and functional aspects of social support as predictors of mental and physical health trajectories: Whitehall II cohort study,” Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 70, pp. 710-715, 2016.
  2. G. M. Reid, M. K. Holt, C. E. Bowman, D. L. Espelage and J. Greif Green, “Perceived Social Support and Mental Health among First-Year College Students with Histories of Bullying Victimization,” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 25, no. 11, p. 3331–3341, 2016.
  3. A. Milner, L. Krnjacki, P. Butterworth and A. D. LaMontagne, “The role of social support in protecting mental health when employed and unemployed: A longitudinal fixed-effects analysis using 12 annual waves of the HILDA cohort,” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 153, pp. 20-26, 2016.
  4. A. Werner-Seidler, M. H. Afzali, C. Chapman, M. Sunderland and T. Slade, “The relationship between social support networks and depression in the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, vol. 52, no. 12, p. 1463–1473, 2017.
About The Author Alexander Draghici
 

I'm a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner and co-founder at psycheguide.com. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common mental issues – anxiety and depression. When I’m not busy crafting content or working one-on-one with my clients, I enjoy going to the gym, practicing on my guitar, or playing airsoft. I've also been struggling with anxiety for most of my teenage years, but now I can proudly say that I've finally managed to regain control of my life.

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