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Cultivating a Strong Social Support Network

Social support is emotional and/or physical help, assistance, or comfort.

Key points

  • Individuals with robust social support networks have better health, longer lives, and higher well-being.
  • Four recognized constructs of social support are emotional, instrumental, informational, and appraisal.
  • Each of us must examine how we “show up” for others so that healthy and happy relationships are sustained.

Social support can be viewed in various ways and is generally referred to as emotional and/or physical help, assistance, or comfort that is received or given from social networks including, but not limited to, family, friends, neighbors, pets, organizations, and supportive communities. Moreover, social support can not only be conceptualized and operationalized in a litany of ways but can be a measurable outcome and is widely documented in the vast psychology and sociology scientific literature (Wilson, et. al., 2020; McDonough et. al., 2019) available to date.

Illuminating the concept and cultivation of a strong social support network is the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” which recognizes and aligns with the communal underpinnings necessary for phasic growth in healthy and safe environments to support mental and physical health and wellness. Research has shown that there are tremendous benefits in having a network of supportive relationships: Those with robust social support networks have better health, longer lives, and higher well-being. Friends and loved ones can make you more resilient in times of stress, setback, or loss (Tang, et.al. 2022; Shuo et.al., 2022; Köse et.al., 2021). Knowledge of what one needs is ultimately scaffolded by mental, physical, and social contexts.

Scaffold: A supportive structure used for elevating, lifting, and holding during construction, reconstruction, and repair.

Cameron’s Story

Cameron is a 27-year-old contractor who was just hired for a new job renovating a house in Sedona, Arizona. He works part-time for a firm that includes approximately 60 other individuals, and he works part-time for himself to build his own business. Generally, he finds himself working every day and on weekends too. There is very little time for attending social events, hanging out with friends, or having a solid relationship with his “on-again, off-again” girlfriend. He even missed his favorite cousin’s wedding and mailed yet another RSVP “no” to his fifth social invitation this month.

Cameron represents many of us—he has several individuals within his social circle, but he has not prioritized time and ways to build a web for giving nor receiving support, attention, or care in a community with others. And although he is introspective, he often processes alone and feels overwhelmed and unsupported. Being mindful of differing ways and entities for creating and nurturing a positive support system is paramount (Kammrath et.al., 2020; Esparza-Reig, 2022; Çiçek et.al., 2021; Kammrath et.al., 2020) as is understanding the person, the season of their life, and the support needed. Several aspects to consider regarding social support networks and the needs of the recipient(s) are as follows: age and phase of life; situation and specific expectations; type(s) and duration; background and experience of potential supporter(s); and parameters for levels of support. And widely accepted are four recognized types of social support constructs with definable characteristics:

4 Recognized Constructs of Social Support

  1. Emotional – expressions of empathy, trust, love, grace, and care.
  2. Instrumental – tangible and perceptible aid and service.
  3. Informational – constructive thoughts, advice, recommendations, and information.
  4. Appraisal – useful knowledge, details, and facts for self-reflection and evaluation.

We all need some level of support during life, and it can be garnered with a multitude of approaches (Galanis et.al, 2022; Kong et.al., 2021; Boullion et.al, 2020). Additionally, each of us must personally examine how we “show up” for the meaningful individuals in our lives so that healthy and happy relationships are sustained. What can be done to build a sturdy social network when needed? Consider these avenues:

  • Accept Help – by accepting help, you can ultimately receive the help you need. There is value in letting your guard down, being vulnerable, and having balance in relationships.
  • Demonstrate Gratitude and Appreciation by verbally and non-verbally expressing to family, friends, and other meaningful people, their significance in your life.
  • Foster Bidirectional Bonding by simply “being there” and “coming through” at challenging times. Authentic relationships and true friendships should be reciprocal and not one-sided and only available during good times.
  • Join Professional Organizations and Personal Meet-Up Groups – by communing with individuals with similar interests, you create an opportunity to grow, learn, and even have fun.
  • Know When a Relationship Is Problematic – by identifying that you are mentally and/or emotionally drained you help yourself so you can be a support to others. When you perceive someone as inconsiderate of your feelings or time, unreliable, highly critical, or generally negative, they may not be a good choice for your social support network.
  • Practice Good Listening Skills by actively listening and intentionally embracing information shared by family, friends, and others. Give yourself permission to listen openly without judgment or being defensive and determine what you find supportive.
  • Respect Boundaries and Expectations – by understanding that establishing parameters and setting limitations can be healthy for developing lasting relationships.
  • Stay connected – by talking face to face and via texting, emailing, and attending invited events. Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Support Achievements and Successes – by affirmatively acknowledging small and big wins of family, friends, and others.

Embrace the significance and importance of a strong social support network for the overall mental and physical care of yourself, your life, and others. There is power and validation in cultivating a community that feeds our soul.

Your Supportive Sisters in Mental Health and Wellness,

Kisha and Malika

References

Boullion, G. Q., Pavlacic, J. M., Schulenberg, S. E., Buchanan, E. M., & Steger, M. F. (2020). Meaning, social support, and resilience as predictors of posttraumatic growth: A study of the Louisiana flooding of August 2016. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(5), 578.

Çiçek, İ. (2021). Effect of Hope on Resilience in Adolescents: Social Support and Social Connectedness as Mediators. Journal of Positive School Psychology, 5(2).

Esparza-Reig, J., Martí-Vilar, M., González-Sala, F., Merino-Soto, C., & Toledano-Toledano, F. (2022, September). Social Support and Resilience as Predictors of Prosocial Behaviors before and during COVID-19. In Healthcare (Vol. 10, No. 9, p. 1669). MDPI.

Galanis, P., Katsiroumpa, A., Vraka, I., Siskou, O., Konstantakopoulou, O., Katsoulas, T., & Kaitelidou, D. (2022). Relationship between social support and resilience among nurses: A systematic review. medRxiv, 2022-09.

Kammrath, L. K., Armstrong III, B. F., Lane, S. P., Francis, M. K., Clifton, M., McNab, K. M., & Baumgarten, O. M. (2020). What predicts who we approach for social support? Tests of the attachment figure and strong ties hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(3), 481.

Kong, L. N., Zhu, W. F., Hu, P., & Yao, H. Y. (2021). Perceived social support, resilience and health self-efficacy among migrant older adults: A moderated mediation analysis. Geriatric Nursing, 42(6), 1577-1582.

Köse, S., Baykal, B., & Bayat, İ. K. (2021). Mediator role of resilience in the relationship between social support and work life balance. Australian Journal of Psychology, 73(3), 316-325.

McDonough, M. H., Beselt, L. J., Daun, J. T., Shank, J., Culos‐Reed, S. N., Kronlund, L. J., & Bridel, W. (2019). The role of social support in physical activity for cancer survivors: a systematic review. Psycho‐Oncology, 28(10), 1945-1958.

Shuo, Z., Xuyang, D., Xin, Z., Xuebin, C., & Jie, H. (2022). The relationship between postgraduates’ emotional intelligence and well-being: the chain mediating effect of social support and psychological resilience. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 865025.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Zhang, J., & Wang, H. (2022). The relationship between negative life events and quality of life in adolescents: mediated by resilience and social support. Frontiers in public health, 10, 980104.

Wilson, J. M., Weiss, A., & Shook, N. J. (2020). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and savoring: Factors that explain the relation between perceived social support and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 152, 109568.

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