The Importance of Social Support
Social relationships play an important role in our quality of life and our emotional health. While having a lot of friends can be nice, the quality and depth of those relationships is far more important than the quantity. If you have a large social circle, but all of the relationships you have formed are light and superficial, you may very well find yourself feeling lonely, even when you’re in a crowd. Whereas, even having just two or three close friends can provide a strong support system that strengthens your emotional health. If you aren't sure how you'd classify your relationships, ask yourself, “If there was an emergency at three in the morning, who could I call?” These are the people who are truly your support network.
Having close friends we can rely on affects our lives in a number of ways. When things go wrong, we have a source of comfort. When things are going right, these are the people who will celebrate your successes. People who have solid relationships with at least a few close friends tend to have higher confidence, greater satisfaction with their daily lives, stronger marriages, are less likely to become enmeshed in abusive relationships or turn to alcohol or recreational drugs, and tend to be more successful at work.
Not only does social support have a positive impact on our emotions, it also appears to play a vital role in the functioning of our bodies. If you've ever wondered if there is validity to the theory that your emotions impact your physical health, studies involving health and friendship make a very strong case that they are interconnected. Compared to people who have no friends or describe their friendships as lacking depth, people with tightly knit social circles tend to have stronger immune systems. They not only catch fewer minor illnesses like colds and flus, they are also less likely to suffer from serious health issues like cancer and heart disease. They also tend to live longer than people who are socially isolated.
If you don't have a strong social network in place, there are a number of ways to go about making new friends. For some people this comes easily, but for others it requires a bit of effort. If you struggle to make friends because you’re shy or have low self-esteem, working with a life coach to learn how to build yourself up can help you overcome your fear. If you don't feel like this applies to you, but you’re simply new to an area or have had other life changes that require you to make new friends, here are some great ways to start:
- Join an Activity – Actively pursuing your interests, whether it is bowling with a league or renting a plot in your community garden, will help you meet lots of people who share at least one of your interests.
- Volunteer – The world needs you, and you need the world. Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to your community, and it will make you feel great, too. No matter where you live, someone needs your help. Boys and Girls Clubs, nursing homes, homeless shelters and soup kitchens, animal rescue organizations, the list goes on and on. One fantastic plus towards meeting people through volunteer work is that it is almost a given that the people you meet will believe in a cause that is important to you, are generous with their time, and socially responsible. Not many folks who are unkind or shallow are willing to devote their free time to doing a job that doesn’t pay.
- Introduce Yourself to the Neighbors – If you are new to a neighborhood, consider yourself a welcome wagon in reverse. Instead of waiting for the neighbors to come to you, go to them. Bake some cookies and start knocking on doors and introduce yourself. Most people will appreciate the gesture, and you might end up connecting with someone (or many someones) with whom you have a lot in common!
- Spiritual Community – Churches, synagogues, meditation halls, covens, and mosques are wonderful ways to meet people. Sharing a spiritual belief means you automatically have something to connect around, and most spiritual communities offer social activities, volunteer opportunities, study groups, and support groups.
- Classes – Learning something that requires practicing new skills with others, like a language or dancing, will allow you to interact with other people in a safe and fun environment.
As you begin to make new friends, your social circle can expand exponentially. Even if you only form a strong connection with one person from one of the activities listed above, it is likely that in time you will meet people through them. It takes time for new friendships to form depth, but there are things you can do to help the process. Most importantly, be the type of friend you want to have. When you're a compassionate listener or make thoughtful gestures like offering to watch a friend’s children or bringing them soup when they are sick, you will attract people who want to be there for you as well. All good relationships include both giving and receiving, so be willing to do both, and your relationships will thrive.
Devon is a Licensed Mental Health/Substance Abuse Counselor, Certified Personal Trainer, Personal Life Coach, and a nationally certified teacher. She is committed to helping young people be their highest selves in all areas: body, mind, and spirit. Her expertise, enthusiasm, energy and educational background serve to create a unique blend of services and techniques employed to help you reach your goals. For training, coaching, or counseling sessions, please contact her at 505.469.0779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.