Social support is important when dealing with adversity

Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. Here's how to build and maintain these essential relationships.

Michigan State University Extension Nurturing Families curriculum says that a strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times; whether you’ve had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. Since your supportive family, friends and co-workers are such an important part of your life, it’s never too soon to cultivate these relationships.

What is a social support network?

A social support network is made up of friends, family and peers. A social support network is different from a support group, which is generally a structured meeting run by a mental health professional. Although both can play an important role in times of stress, a social support network is something you can develop when you’re not under stress. It provides the comfort of knowing that your friends are there for you if you need them.

You don’t need to formalize your support network with regular meetings or an official leader. A coffee break with a friend at work, a quick chat with a neighbor, a phone call to your sibling, even a visit to church are all ways to develop and foster lasting relationships with the people close to you. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. If you meet someone you think might become a good friend, invite him or her to join you for coffee or another casual activity.

Benefits of a social support network

Numerous studies have demonstrated that having a network of supportive relationships contributes to psychological wellbeing. When you have a social support network, you benefit in the following ways:

  • Sense of belonging. Spending time with people helps ward off loneliness. Whether it’s other new parents, dog lovers, fishing buddies or siblings, just knowing you’re not alone can go a long way toward coping with stress.
  • Increased sense of self-worth. Having people who call you a friend reinforces the idea that you’re a good person to be around.
  • Feeling of security. Your social network gives you access to information, advice, guidance and other types of assistance, should you need them. It’s comforting to know that you have people you can turn to in a time of need.

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