Social Support Network: What It Is and Why It’s Important

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One of the most effective tools for managing stress and symptoms of depression or anxiety is a strong social support network.

What It Is

A social support network is not the same thing as a support group moderated by a mental health counselor. Rather, it is an informal circle of peers, friends, and family members—people you cultivate relationships with who can be counted on in times of need.

Social support networks are created by making an effort to start new friendships, and they are maintained by nurturing the connections you already have. Even an email or text saying, “Hi. Just thinking of you,” can refresh relationship bonds.

The psychological benefits of building a social support network are invaluable. They provide a sense of security, strengthen our sense of personal worth, and give us the much needed feeling of belonging.

A sense of security comes from knowing individuals who are willing to listen, provide information, recommendations, or assist us in other ways. Our self-worth is increased when we know there are people who enjoy our company, and being connected to others protects us from loneliness; it satisfies the basic human need of knowing we are not alone.

Being Part of a Social Network

In healthy social support networks, the benefit goes both ways—others support you, and you are there to be a friend and support to others. Often the support is unspoken. Having coffee with a friend or talking to a sibling on the phone can relieve stress even when we do not talk about our problems.

To be a trusted support network member:

  1. Cultivate your ability to listen fully, or with your complete attention. Listening well is one of the greatest gifts we can offer another human being.
  2. Encourage your family and friends to pursue their interests and goals, and celebrate their important milestones and accomplishments with them.
  3. From time to time, let others know that their presence in your life is important to you and appreciated.
  4. Take time to stay in touch, answer phone calls and emails, plan activities and invite your friends.
  5. Over-sharing personal information, or flooding friends and family with texts, emails, or calls may wear out your welcome. There will be times when you need extra support and people will freely give it if you have not earlier over-burdened them.

Building A Support Network

To build a social support network, or strengthen the one you have, requires effort on your part. However, the effort can be enjoyable. Many people make acquaintances and build friendships by volunteering where they can meet others with similar interests or values. You can also find like-minded people by taking community education or local college classes, participating in local theater or sports teams, and by joining a gym or community recreation center.

There are, countless ways to stay connected or make new connections online. Websites and online support groups exist for almost any issue you can think of. Although nothing can replace face to face time with family and friends, online contacts and relationships can be very encouraging, informative, and consoling.

Source: Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Noel Teo / flickr creative commons

 
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