Social Support: The Best Foundation of Our Wellbeing

12 June, 2017

We have all been through complicated situations in which we’ve needed our loved ones in order to keep moving forward. This social support oftentimes plays the role of a “crutch” since it helps keep us standing. It also prevents us from falling back down again when we take the next few steps.

It seems evident that having a good social network helps us in our daily life, right? Knowing that we can count on the people who are important to us makes us feel a great sense of comfort. In fact, from a very young age, we seek to interact and build relationships with others. Without knowing the reasons which lead us to it, we actively seek for others to love and understand us. Why is this?

“There are no problems we cannot solve together, and very few that we can solve by ourselves”
-Lyndon Baines Johnson-

What is social support?

Intuitively, we could think that social support is the number of social relationships an individual has. But thinking about it as the amount of social links we have seems like an oversimplification, doesn’t it? Let’s also add to it who exactly we have this type of relationship with. If they are members of our family, work colleagues, etc.  We already have more information, but it still gives off the feeling that something is lacking.

two sisters having coffee and talking

What if we add in the benefits of our social network? The concept takes an interesting turn, doesn’t it? In fact, social support is all of this. It includes the amount, quality and the characteristics of social relationships, as well as how the individual perceives them. The following aspects influence it:

How does social support affect us psychologically?

Having a good social network, and one that we perceive as such, will help us maintain our psychological health.  As it turns out, it has been proven to function as a protective factor when it comes to facing stressful situations. It reduces the impact that the negative effects of stress have over our health, both mental and physical. But, in what way does social support affect our psychological well-being?

couple hugging and laughing

The advice we receive from people who are important to us might have an impact on the evaluation we make of the situations we are going through. On the other hand, our self-esteem and sense of control can increase due to the emotional support our loved ones offer us. This way, we will see ourselves as stronger in order to confront whatever might come our way.

Therefore, if our social support network helps us regulate our emotional responses and reinforces us when we try to react to conflicts, it’s helping us confront them in a better way. On top of that, it will be boosting our personal growth.

However, there are also some occasions in which our social network is, in itself, a source of anxiety and stress. This happens when the people who form part of the network behave in an overprotective way. These people might keep us from activating our confronting mechanisms in the different situations life presents us with.

Social support and the development chronic illnesses

Chronic diseases are a stressful element in themselves, both for the people who suffer them as well as for their close family and friends. For example, the effects of acquired brain damage has been studied on the family members of the patient. In general terms, they have to change their lifestyle and habits. Not only that, they also have to follow an exhaustive medical treatment.

Their social support will have a notable influence on this. It has been proven that a reduced level of this type of support can lead to people adopting less healthy lifestyle habits. This change in the behaviors related to our health is very important. Especially in the evolution that this type of disease might have.

Besides, if the patients perceive the social network they have as something positive, they will follow their treatments more effectively. This will make their health improve. They will also perceive that their well-being is satisfactory. This social network of support is so important that interventions are held with the patient’s family members. For example, this kind of intervention might apply for patients diagnosed with long-lasting and severe mental diseases.

“There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up”
-John Holmes-

Social support can be offered by professionals

But we are not just talking about the support given by their loved ones. Within support, we’re also including the support given by health professionals who are in contact with the patient. The physician-patient relationship turns out to be a key factor in the improvement of their objective health.

thank you neon sign

That is to say, when the professional is capable of transmitting information about the illness and its treatment to the patient, this patient shows a greater attachment to them. In this way, the symptoms of the disease as well as the patient’s state of mind have a better chance of improving.

Social support is definitely a protective factor for our physical and mental health. But this is not always true. It is necessary that the support our social network gives us reinforces our self-esteem and that we perceive it as valuable. If, on the contrary, it’s negative, it is going to have the opposite effect. The important thing here is to recognize the benefits that social support can offer us and to let it act when we need it.