5 Kinds of Social Support & Why It Is Important
Even as someone who prefers being alone, there are times where I am grateful for having my friends or family in times of need or uncertainty. Sometimes in life, you just need a listening ear or someone to cheer you up and give you the encouragement you need.
Social support is the perception and actuality that one is cared for, has assistance available from other people, and most popularly, that one is part of a supportive social network. They can be family, friends, schoolmates, co-workers, or counsellors. There are 5 kinds of social support namely: emotional support, instrumental support, informational support, appraisal support, and inclusion support.
Emotional support is the ability to show empathy, compassion, and genuine concern for another person. It is born out of real, authentic relationships with other people which indicates that the relationship is deeper and more meaningful than a casual acquaintance.
In healthy relationships and friendships, it is a 2-way street where both people in the relationship give and receive emotional support freely. Studies have shown that people with healthy relationships and friendships have greater emotional well-being, live healthier lives, and longer life expectancy.
When you feel cared for, accepted, and understood, you tend to feel less alone, and more optimistic about whatever situation you are facing. On the other hand, offering emotional support to others allow you to feel trustworthy and derive the pleasure and satisfaction of helping another.
How to offer emotional support?
Be a good listener
Demonstrate good listening skills by being actively engaged in what they are telling you.
Don't get distracted by TV/phone and give them all your attention.
Look at them.
Don't interrupt them unnecessarily. Your job is to listen.
Give advice when needed. Again, your first job is to listen. Only give advice if required. (Giving advice is an example of appraisal support)
Use encouraging words and a gentle tone.
Respect the feeling of others
Never tell them that their feelings are wrong. Everyone responds to a situation differently.
Always use "If I were you" instead of "You should". You don't want to sound like you are giving orders, but rather share gentle advice.
Separate your feelings for your friend from your feelings about their opinions. Don't have a strong emotional thought to your friend's thought. Realise that everyone is entitled to their own feelings and respect them.
Discuss differences in a calm and respectful manner.
Instrumental support refers to tangible help and material, and financial assistance.
Sometimes when you fall sick, you need someone to take you to the doctor or bring you a meal. Other times, when you forget to bring your wallet, you need someone to lend you money. They also help you brainstorm ideas (rather than telling you what to do i.e. informational support).
Informational support refers to specific information and knowledge of resources in the environment. Lack of information can block decision making, leading to ruminating, and worrying about your situation instead of acting. Those offering informational support do so in the form of advice-giving, or in gathering and sharing information that can help people know of potential next steps that may work well.
Examples: Doctors provide facts about breast cancer and guidance during the treatment process. Her mother offers advice about her own chemotherapy treatment 3 years prior.
Appraisal support includes getting help with your decision making. Sometimes you are indecisive and aren't sure what course of action to take, so you seek opinions and advice from others who are knowledgeable and trusted.
Example: A close friend of 15 years reminds her of all of the qualities that equip her to "beat" breast cancer (to encourage an accurate assessment of her current situation).
Inclusion support refers to being part of a community or a group, with access to social contacts and group activities. Having a sense of belonging in such groups alleviates loneliness and provides opportunity for fun, recreation, and the giving and receiving of help.
Studies have shown how social and emotional support from others can be protective for health. Social support can be used as a form of encouragement for people to live healthfully. Whenever you begin a new exercise routine or nutrition plan, things might get tough. Therefore, the encouragement, advice, and support from family and friends can help you stay on track with your plans.
Social support can build up your self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself when others care about you. After all, humans are social creatures. You also become more optimistic about accomplishing your goals, and you are less lonely, anxious, and depressed.
Lastly, social support diminishes the body's stress responses and strengthens the immune system, thus lessening the risk of illnesses.
Social support is usually reciprocal. Therefore, you receive what you give. By being a willing giver of social support, you are also most likely a worthy recipient of it.
Sometimes in life, you lose your established social support when you go for overseas education or relocation for a job. This is the time where you have to make an effort to reestablish a supportive network.
To build a new social network, you can try being involved in activities, groups, and organisations that interest you at campus or within the community. Groups generally want new members and are happy and excited when you hop onboard. You also get to do things that you enjoy with people of the same interest.
Everyone is unique. Therefore, people differ in their willingness to seek and accept social support. Some prefer to meet challenges and settle problems on their own, not wanting to bother or be bothered by people, and seeking help only when absolutely necessary. Others are more inclined to offer and accept the support of others.
Either way, believing that support is available if needed, called perceived social support, contributes to feeling valued and able to meet life's stresses without becoming overwhelmed, whether or not support actually exists.