Rakesh, a 31-year-old professional, has been feeling burned out recently. He works hard and for long hours through the week, with just enough time in the evenings to watch a few episodes of a show and then sleep. On weekends, he does his laundry, talks to his parents and sister, and goes to the gym. When he looks back at how he was at age 21, he can barely recognise himself. “I used to be so outgoing and have so many friends. What has happened to me?”
This is something that so many of us might experience, when we go about our regular life with our work, personal chores, and de-stressing in front of the laptop or TV. We may not spend enough quality time with family or friends, and end up feeling lonely. For some of us, we may not even feel this until we are in a difficult situation and feel vulnerable and wonder why we have no one to talk to.
Human beings are social creatures
Studies show that being around supportive people protects our immunity levels from reducing, helps us live longer and healthier.
Social support is an essential aspect of our mental health and general sense of well-being. Which is why mental health professionals always recommend that we lean on our friends and family, whether we are in a crisis situation, attempting to reach a goal, or just living our daily life. There is lots of research to show that our social relationships directly impact our physical and mental health, including loneliness, depression, alcohol use and cardiovascular disease.
What does social support mean?
When we talk about social support, we are talking about active participation in social relationships- family, friends, romantic partners, hobby groups etc. The emotions and intimacy that these involve help us to feel a sense of belonging, which gives us a sense of emotional protection.
It helps us to cope with stress and increases our sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Being surrounded by caring and supportive people gives us the feeling that we are not alone and can manage difficult situations. Talking to people who are going through or have gone through similar experiences can also be a source of empathy, support and motivation.
Types of social support:
Emotional support- A person who will listen to us, give us a shoulder to cry on, and will have our back at all times.
Instrumental support – A person who might provide us with practical support if we need it, whether that is a helping us change a punctured tyre, sending us food when we are sick or lending us a ladder because we don’t have one at home.
Informational support – A person who would give us advice, guidance, information, or mentoring.
One person in our life may do a little bit of all of these, or we might have different people fulfilling each of these roles. The important thing is that we have people to turn to, in any situation.
Mental health and support
There tends to be stigma around having mental health concerns, and so it is important that, rather than isolate ourselves if we have symptoms of depression, anxiety or any mental disorder, we have caring, compassionate and helpful people as part of the support network. Healthy support is essential to managing mental illness.
Nurturing your support system
Don’t forget your role as a source of social support for others! Reaching out isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it can make a big difference. Call or text regularly, meet the other person for a meal or coffee, maintain relationships and enjoy the lighter times together. This helps you as much as it makes others feel cared for and supported as well.