The Importance of Social Support

By Heather Matzkowitz, LMSW

Social support plays a significant role in mental health and overall well-being. Social support means having other people who support you in times of need and help enhance a positive self-image. There are four main types of social support:

  • Emotional support - includes affection, love, and empathizing.
  • Esteem support - includes words that others say to let you know that they believe in you.
  • Informational support - includes sharing information or advice giving.
  • Tangible support - includes financial assistance or material goods and services.

All these different types of social supports can come from a variety of places—family, friends, romantic partners, pets, co-workers, health care workers, and community organizers. 

Having a social network of people in your life provides a sense of belonging, security, and community. Research has shown that when a person has social supports they can better manage depression and anxiety, and they experience a reduction in the psychological and physiological effects of stress. On the contrary, individuals with low social support have a higher risk of death from things like cancer and heart disease. Feeling connected also impacts us on a cellular level—there is greater inflammation present in the body for individuals who report feelings of intense loneliness. With this research you can see why it is important to not only pay attention to your own social support, but the social support you provide for others. 

With busy lives and hectic schedules, it can often be difficult to maintain relationships with your close social supports. Here are some ways that you can strengthen and keep the positive connections in your life:

  1. Make a short list of family members and friends whom you feel are supportive and uplifting to have in your life. Also include a list of those whom you feel you need to stay in contact with, such as an aging relative. 
     
  2. Make a promise to yourself to either text, call, or meet up with them at a convenient time for both of you. Try to reach out to make at least one emotional connection per day, even something as simple as a text message. 
     
  3. Be open and honest about what is on your mind when you are reaching out. Let the person you are speaking to know the reasons you are reaching out (you’ll often be surprised how willing they will be to lend an ear or help you with a problem!). It’s good to ask what other people think about your particular situation — this shows someone that you value their opinion.
     
  4. Show genuine interest in the person you are speaking to. Even when you are going to them and asking for advice, it is important to ask about how they are doing.  This helps keep the emotional connection strong and genuine. 
     
  5. Make fun social plans! Engaging in activities that both you and your relative or friend enjoy is important for building stronger bonds and will make you both feel uplifted.

Heather Matzkowitz, LMSW is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like to cultivate more social support in your life, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.