Social support comes from the people we turn to in times of need. This support can enhance our quality of life and provide a buffer against stress
Our social support occurs predominately in these four distinct areas:
- Informational Support: Offering advice, gathering and sharing ideas or information.
- Tangible assistance: Taking an active role to help someone cope with or manage a problem. e.g. bringing dinner to a friend when they are sick, being a sounding board to brainstorm ideas (vs telling you what to do, as in informational support).
- Emotional assistance: Often a mix of physical comfort (hugs or pats on the back) as well as listening with empathy. e.g. a friend giving you a hug and listening to your problems, letting you know that you are not alone.
- Esteem assistance: An expression of confidence or encouragement. Someone offering this type of support may point out the strengths we are not aware of, or may just let us know that they believe in us. Coaches and mentors offer this type of support to aid development; this often leads to the protégé believing in themselves more.
The benefits of social support:
Social assistance helps develop emotional intelligence. Social development has been shown to reduce the physical and mental consequences of stress, whether that support is from a trusted group or from a valued individual. Social networks provide a sense of belonging, security, and community whether they are formal (e.g. church or social club) or informal (friends).
Research shows social support through close relationships with fellow members in an organisation, friends, family or other support groups reduces vulnerability to ill health and premature death. It also has a significant correlation to measures of wellbeing. When we feel supported by close personal relationships we cope better with various of life’s stressors including job loss, bereavement and illness (Salovey, 2000).
The power of Social support is most effective when we feel comfortable with the group’s beliefs, practices, and expectations
Research findings on Social support:
• Not all support is equal. One study (involving 103 husbands and wives) found that too much informational support (often unsolicited advice) was worse than no support at all. However, they also found we can’t give too much genuine esteem support.
• Most get too little support. The same marriage study found that about 2/3 of men and at least 4/5 of the women felt they had too little support (only 1/3 of men and women said that they were getting more support than they wanted).
There are different types of social support. It is important not to assume that we know what type of support our spouses, friends or employees need. It is always best to ask, find out if the support we’re offering is working.
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