Is there someone in your life that you can turn to when you just need to talk?
Is there someone you can call when something really great happens and you want to share the news?
The people in your life that provide comfort and support are also known as your social support network. Research suggests that there is a strong link between having a healthy social support network and physical and mental health. You have probably experienced the benefits of your social network in the past when you have called a close friend to discuss a problem and felt better after you have shared your story and talked about options to solve the problem. But did you know that there are also other important types of social support?
According to the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addiction there are four basic types of social support:
• Emotional support – this is support that you might receive from a friend or relative who tells you that they care for you and demonstrates their support through actions such as calling you to check that you are alright when you are facing a stressful situation.
• Practical help – this is support that helps with the day to day tasks of life. For example, a friend or relative might help you move or do a chore around the house.
• Sharing information – in this case another person might offer information that could help you through a stressful time. For example, a friend, who has had a heart attack, might tell you what to expect if you were faced with the same situation.
• Sharing points of view – in this type of support someone might offer their perspectives on a situation and share how they might handle it. This type of support can be particularly useful when it helps you to see a problem from another perspective and understand the options that you might have in a situation.
Can you revitalize your relationships?
Some people have the same circle of friends, neighbors and co-workers through their entire life but in most cases our social support network changes over time. You may notice a change in your social support network when you lose a close
We all need a little help at times to reach out and strengthen our social support network so here are some basic tips to improve your support network:
• Don’t be afraid to take a risk – meeting new people and making new friends can feel uncomfortable. Don’t worry, most people feel that way but remember that everyone has social support networks and the person that you meet may also be looking for a new friend to add to their network.
• Ask for help – the people that you know can help you to meet new people, they might know someone who can help you with a problem or someone who has gone through a similar experience. They may not know automatically that you are interested in improving your social support network, so it helps to ask for the help that you want.
• Make a plan – think about what type of new support that you need and all the different ways that you could find that help.
• Create new opportunities, be a ‘joiner’ – try a new class, join a book club or volunteer your time to increase your opportunities to meet new people.
• Reconnect – Make a list of good friends and relatives that you could re-establish contact with in order to strengthen your social network. This might include a great-niece or nephew, a cousin or a neighbor who has moved away. For the price of a stamp, a phone call or a brief e-mail you can let someone know that you are thinking of them and take the first step in reconnecting.
Remember to be patient with yourself, all relationships take some time and effort to nurture and develop. Life transitions such as retirement, a change in friendships, marital status and loss of a special person can be a time for reflection, to reconnect with people and meet new people. You will be rewarded with a strong social network.
See also our ‘Feeling Overwhelmed’ section on this website for information on support groups and social groups: