A social support system refers to a network of people we can turn to for emotional and practical support. This group can include anyone ‒ family members, friends, peers, coworkers, professionals. Social support networks are different from a formal support group that typically meets to assist people in a shared traumatic experience; rather, they’re informal, with no preset framework, and can be tapped for any type of experience you need support with. Having these support networks in place before, during, and after times of struggle can make managing stress and other negative emotions easier.
Benefits of a Support System
Research shows there are many benefits to having a support network in place. People with support systems live longer and are generally healthier, reporting higher levels of overall happiness. These groups can help you be more resilient in times of loss and stress while also improving how you feel during the good times.
Supportive relationships can also bolster you emotionally when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed. Loved ones can listen to your fears and worries, making you feel seen and understood. They can also work with you to solve problems and find alternative solutions as well as help distract you from the situation at hand.
10 Tips to Create an Effective Support System
Building a support system doesn’t happen overnight – and while you can collect people you meet, like in school or at a job, it typically takes more than a shared space to include someone in your desired support group.
Determine who you want in your support system
Look for people who treat you with kindness and respect and have your best interests at heart. It works the opposite way as well: If you have a relationship with someone that no longer serves you, you aren’t obligated to maintain that relationship. Or you simply don’t need to consider them as someone you would go to for support or certain types of support. It’s completely up to you. This advice applies not only to romantic partners but to friendships as well.,
Connect with a professional
Working with professionals like therapists, mental health counselors, and Health Coaches is a healthy first step to take when building a support system. Professionals can support you with day-to-day challenges but also delve into the larger issues that smaller issues tend to stem from. Professionals can also give you advice on building your network beyond your relationship with them.
Self-confidence is about more than just feeling good about yourself ‒ it also means believing you deserve love; that your thoughts, feelings, and goals have value; and that you can trust in your own abilities. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can help jump-start this confidence boost.
Attend a support group
Support groups are often where people looking to build their support bases begin. There are support groups for a wide range of experiences, all working toward a similar goal. Members will likely have a unique understanding of your current challenges because they’re dealing with the same issues.
Find a hobby
Hobbies are a simple yet effective way to build a community. Knitting, hiking, cooking, and throwing pottery are all hobbies that will expand the pool for your support group. You don’t even need to physically pursue the hobby in a shared space; many online communities are just as strong as those formed with people you meet in real life.
Get to know your neighbors
Your neighbors can include the people you live near but also coworkers the next desk over, people you see in shared spaces on a college campus, or those you see every morning at the coffee shop. Making the effort to get to know the people you see regularly, even if just to say hello, can jump-start the journey to building your support system.
Find the positives
As humans, we’re hardwired to focus on what’s wrong, but we don’t have to think this way. Just like with building any muscle, cultivating positive thinking takes intention, time, and commitment. Positivity attracts positivity, and even forcing yourself to smile has shown to promote happiness.
Approaching people to ask for help isn’t something we all do intuitively. In fact, many people are very hesitant to ask for help, assuming others will see them as weak for needing assistance in dealing with problems. But people who love us want to help us – most times, when friends and family say, “If you need anything, just let me know,” they really do mean it! You can’t get help if you don’t ask for it.
Find nonhuman support
Plants, pets, even stuffed animals can provide great comfort in times of stress. They listen without judgment, provide a sense of responsibility, and can offer a connection just as rewarding as a human one.
Creating trusting and healthy relationships takes time. Finding the group you’ll learn to rely on isn’t a quick process; it often takes a lifetime. As you meet people and expand your group, you can grow to appreciate the time it took to build connections.
The Importance of Sustaining Your Support System
Successful, sustainable relationships require constant maintenance. Although some relationships don’t require daily communication to stay intact, others do. Communicating with the different members of your support system will help cut out any confusion about what each relationship requires to last.
Some tips for maintaining these relationships are:
- Show your appreciation. Tell your friends and family how important they are to you and thank them for all they give you.
- Stay in touch through phone calls, texts, and email.
- Be available when you’re needed. True friends come through when times are tough. Be a good listener and allow your friends to confide freely and without being judged.
- Support their successes. When you care for someone, you want to see them succeed.
- Be honest. Communication is key with all relationships. If someone does something that hurts you, let them know in a healthy way.
- Respect the needs of others. Everyone has their limit for social interactions. Know your limits or boundaries and respect those of others, even if they differ from yours.
- Learn their love languages (this isn’t just for romantic relationships!). Ways in which you want to be cared for and appreciated may not be the same for members of your support system.
Remember, people in your support system should help you reduce stress, not increase it. They should support your goals and efforts to achieve them, not belittle your feelings, undermine your other relationships, or ignore your feelings.
The Bottom Line
You can prioritize one type of support (like professional), but don’t let the others lag behind – you never know when you’ll need someone. We turn to our support systems in times of need, and they must be in place before we need them. Now is the time to nurture the relationships you already have and to foster new ones.
Diversifying your support system can allow you to rotate who you seek support from in any given circumstance. And your current needs may be different from your needs even six months from now.