Studies have demonstrated the benefits of social support and how maintaining a network of supportive relationships contributes to our psychological well-being
A social support network helps develop a sense of:
- Belonging. Feeling like we belong and connecting with others helps ward off loneliness. No matter whether it is with other new parents, students, colleagues or siblings, just knowing we’re not alone can go a long way toward helping us cope with stress.
- Self-worth. When we have people we can rely on, relate to and who call us a friend reinforces the idea that we are a valued and good person to be around.
- Security. Our social networks give us access to guidance, information, advice and even a sounding board for new ideas when we need them. It’s comforting to know that we have people we can turn to in a time of need.
How to cultivate a social support network
To improve our mental health and our ability to combat stress, it is important to surround ourselves with at least a few good friends and confidants. Social support also helps build employee engagement in our teams. Here are some ideas for building our social networks:
- Step up. Pick a cause that’s important to you and volunteer. When we get involved with a cause we believe in, the benefit is we are likely to meet others who share our interests and values.
- Exercise. Join a gym or a running/walking group. Exercise groups are a great way to make friends, and exercise also helps us deal with stress and creative thinking (shifting mental gears).
- Learn a new skill. Do a course, another degree or join Toastmasters. One of the greatest benefits of doing an MBA (as an example) is the networks of people you build. Developing a new skill or hobby similarly puts us in contact with others who share similar passions.
- Go online. Many social networking sites can help us connect with friends and family and others with similar interests. Many great sites exist for when we are going through stressful times, such as illness, loss, a new baby, divorce and other changes in our life circumstances. Support can be in person, but in our hectic time-scarce lives online support can help us cope and thrive.
Giving: The foundation of social networks
We think a successful relationship is a two-way street, but the foundation of building powerful social networks is giving first. According to Adam Grant in his book “Give and Take” and Shawn Achor in “The happiness Advantage” givers have stronger and more supportive networks than takers or matchers. To nurture our relationships:
- Listen before you speak. Find out what is important to people within your network. Listening builds rapport and connection.
- Touch base regularly. Call up members of your network to touch base, send emails or extend invitations to events to let them know you care. When we listen first we can work out which method suits them best and what types of invitations would appeal.
- Celebrate the success of others. Be happy when members of your social network succeed, instead of jealous, and they’ll celebrate your accomplishments in return.
- Think long term. Avoid overwhelming friends and family with phone calls and emails. Touch base from time to time for social reasons not just when you need help. While sharing is important to develop rapport, be wary of “over-sharing” personal or sensitive information, especially with casual acquaintances and on social networking sites.
- Practice gratitude. Take time to say thank you, express how important the people in your life are from time to time. Additionally be there for them when they need support.
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