A good social support system is one of the most important resources for your mental and physical health. Talking to others face-to-face is a proven way to better manage stress, increase happiness and optimize personal relationships. In short, having a strong network of people who genuinely care about you can be one of the best things that you can do for your health.
A social support system is different from a support group, which is a structured meeting organized by health professionals. A social support system is your personal network of relatives, friends, co-workers and organizations that provide both emotional supports, such as making you feel loved or comforted, and instrumental support, which includes help in managing activities of daily living.
Numerous studies have shown that there are tremendous benefits to having a network of supportive relationships. Benefits of a strong social support system include:
- Improved physical health;
- Longer life span;
- Greater emotional wellbeing and sense of self;
- Increased resiliency; and
- Enhanced feelings of security.
Supportive relationships also provide the practical benefit of information sharing, advice garnering, physical assistance and guidance. True friends and close relatives can help you solve problems during stressful situations, think objectively during a crisis, and provide a positive perspective during trying times.
But not everyone naturally has a group of supportive friends and family. For those that don’t, how can we build that important, supportive group if we don’t already have it?
First, you need to get out and meet new people. Attend classes, volunteer, join groups of people with similar interests. It’s easy to do (just search for local book clubs, photography groups, etc. in your region online). This will help you find people with common ideas to build friendships with.
Second, look around. Do you know your neighbors? Many people these days answer no to that question. Start walking around your neighborhood. Say hi and be friendly. You will never know what type of wonderful people surround you daily unless you start talking to them.
Third, sustain the relationships you build by being grateful. Show your appreciation to those who support you, and return the favor. Make sure that you are there for them just as much as they are there for you. Accept their help with out minimizing it. Remember all relationships are two way streets. They are getting something out of this relationship too; and for many people helping someone they care about makes them feel good.
It is important to build your support system now so that you have a network of caring people to help you through trying times. We all go through ups and downs in life, but when you have a strong social support system in place, you can weather any storm.
Article by Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement.