The Importance of Support Systems for Mental Health
According to a 2019 poll from YouGov, 30 percent of millennials say that they always or often feel lonely. On top of that, twenty-two percent of this generation claims that they have zero friends.
Considering that this poll was from before the pandemic hit, one can only imagine that these numbers are higher now than they were in 2019. In fact, a more recent survey found that feelings of social isolation are on the rise.
While it can be difficult to make new friends in these uncertain times, having support systems are important to your physical and mental health. Networks of social support can come in many different forms and can be useful tools in coping with stress and the difficulties of life.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about just how important social systems are to your mental wellbeing.
Why Support Systems are so Important for Mental Health
It’s common to hear mental health professionals discussing the importance of having a strong network of social support. This is particularly important when a person is dealing with a crisis or when they are working to reach their goals. In these instances, experts will often encourage individuals to look towards their family and friends for support.
There has also been research to show that social relationships are linked with a number of aspects of physical and mental health. Both loneliness and depression are linked with poor social support. There is also a connection between poor social support and altered brain function.
These changes in brain function can make people more susceptible to a number of different issues and conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, alcohol use, depression, and suicide.
One study looked at a group of middle-aged men over the course of seven years. The research revealed that those who had strong emotional and social support were less likely to pass away than those who didn’t have this type of relationship.
Experts have divided the concept of our social environments into two different categories. These are social support and social integration.
Social support is a term that refers to the resources a social network provides for coping with stress. These resources can be both psychological and material.
This type of social support can come in a variety of different forms. This might include providing empathy and concern for those that are in need. Or it might mean giving advice to someone who is in a tough place.
Additionally, it can mean providing physical support such as helping out financially or aiding with daily tasks.
On the other hand, social integration is the actual act of participating in social relationships. These can be friendships or romantic relationships.
Social integration involves a sense of belonging to different groups, intimacy, and emotions. This might mean feeling like you belong as a part of a family, a religious community, an activity, a partnership, or other type of social group.
It’s thought that damaging health consequences and maladaptive behaviors can be protected against through being integrated into social relationships.
Different Types of Social Support
There are a number of different forms of social networks that can offer support. The support offered by these networks can also offer a variety of different types of support.
It’s good to have a varied support network. This is because different people can play different roles.
It’s good to have certain people in your life that you can rely on for emotional support. These are people that are there to talk when you’re upset or have your back when you need support. This kind of support is specifically vital when you’re feeling lonely or during times of stress.
Informational support is the type of help that comes in the form of advice, mentoring, guidance, and information. This type of support can be absolutely essential when making big changes in your life or making important decisions.
Having informational support can help to reduce anxiety and stress around an individual’s problems. It helps them to feel like they aren’t alone in solving the issue they are facing.
Instrumental support is when you have people around you that will help you out when you need it. This might mean bringing you some soup when you’re ill or offering to carry your groceries when your back problems are acting up.
It’s important to have this type of support in your life. When you have immediate needs that need to be dealt with, having others there to help can really reduce how stressful the experience is.
Though it can be difficult to make new friends and connections, it’s vital to your health. If your self-esteem is holding you back from meeting new people, you should read about tips for improving your self-esteem.
Health Benefits of Having a Social Support System
Having a social support system is known to be important for both physical and mental health. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that your overall wellbeing can be positively impacted by having a group of people you can count on.
Learning to Deal With Stress
Increasingly, researchers have found that stress is linked with a number of serious health conditions. These can range from heart disease and obesity to reduced immunity.
There have been studies that point to the fact that a strong social support can reduce the consequences of trauma-induced disorders in times of crisis. People who have strong support systems tend to see themselves as being better able to cope with the stress of life.
Helping You Exhibit Healthy Behaviors and Make Healthy Choices
When you are a part of a social group, you’re more likely to exhibit healthy behaviors and make healthy choices. The people you’re around can influence your habits when it comes to exercise, diet, drinking, smoking, and drug use.
As you might imagine, social groups can also have a negative impact on an individual’s choices and behavior.
For this reason, it’s important to consciously create a healthy social support network. You want to be around people who will support you in your health goals rather than discouraging them.
Another positive benefit of strong support systems is that they can help you feel motivated. If you’re trying to quit smoking, stop drinking, or lose weight, connecting with others can help you to stay the course.
While having social networks is important for times of crisis, they also help to keep you stable during calmer times as well. Friendships can help improve your sense of self-worth and self-confidence, reduce your stress, increase your sense of purpose, and much more.
On the one hand, having people to lean on in times of need is essential. At the same time, it’s also important to experience solitude sometimes, too. Spending time alone can give you time to self-reflect, become more productive, and focus on your health.
The Connection Between Healthy Social Lives and Longevity
There are regions of the world that have come to be known as “blue zones.” These are places where an unusually high number of people live for much longer than average. Five of these zones have been proposed, which are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; Loma Linda, USA; and Nicoya, Costa Rica.
While there are a number of theories as to why this might be the case, one notable factor that they all have in common is that they tend to be very social. This is particularly true on the Greek island named Ikaria. They commonly hold a series of 24-hour festivals that will have all age groups in attendance.
One study conducted as a part of the Global Council on Brain Health found that having social connections helps older adults stay healthier. The research both points to the protective nature of having social networks as well as the potential harm caused by isolation and loneliness.
Is It Time for You to Prioritize Your Mental Wellbeing?
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why social support systems are important to your mental wellbeing. Not only can it help you deal with stress in face of the uncertainty of life, but it can also help to protect your physical health.
So, pick up that phone and get in touch with someone you love. Or, get out and try to join a new group of people with similar interests. It just might be good for ya’.
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- Resnick, B. (2019, August 1). 22 percent of millennials say they have “No friends”. Vox. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/8/1/20750047/millennials-poll-loneliness
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