The story of the self-made woman or man who came from nothing
to something without the help of a single person is an urban myth. If you read
any successful person's biography, there was
always someone (usually many people) who helped and supported her or him
along the way.
Now, here is the kicker...if the myth of the self-made person was
true...it is unlikely that that
person would even be able to enjoy her or his retirement days!
That is because social support, or lack thereof, has a very
real effect on our health including our longevity (Ozbay et. al, 2007
). Meaning, our health
generally improves when we feel like part of a community and declines when we
One study found that participants with greater social
involvement were less likely to experience heart-related complications (Reblin
& Uchino, 2008)
Social support systems affect us
in many ways by providing a buffer to stress. They are a resource that enhances
our coping (dare I say, our natural thriving) skills and they have also been
linked to the actualization of healthy behaviors such as: increased fruit and
vegetable consumption, exercise, and the cessation of smoking.
This may seem like common sense. But the research dives even
deeper to discover that the state-of-mind and method of support that the person
giving the support utilities also has an effect on health outcomes. Meaning
even though our advice is well-intentioned, the
manner in which we give it and...how it is perceived matters
For instance, let's take a peek at this study between married
couples. Those spouses that engaged in truly supportive behaviors i.e. they
merely helped or positively reinforced their spouses' efforts had partners who
experienced better mental health outcomes. This is in contrast to those spouses
that exerted more controlling patterns such as forcefully trying to change the
other person. The partners of those folks actually predicted worse mental
health and overall health behavior. (Franks & Stephens, 2006
So social support has
the tendency to affect not only our physical health, but our mental health as
I mean listen to this...even Vietnam veterans with strong
support systems were 180% less likely to experience symptoms of PTSD than those
with lower levels of support (Boscarino et. al, 1995).
Indeed, there is quite a robust catalog of studies that link
social support to more favorable physical and emotional health outcomes.
Social support, as defined in the research, is often described
in two ways.
This speaks to us having many different social groups
that we are involved in ranging from social units such our families, work
colleagues, neighbors, friend groups, or organized (therapeutic,
interest-based, religion-based) groups.
This speaks to actual outcomes that occur within these
groups such as the giving and receiving of emotional support, favors, and also
support in the form of logistics such as assisting with food, housing,
childcare, or financially.
This is important to mention because it shows that it is not
only the amount of social groups we are apart of but the quality of our interactions within those different communities that
matters most to us.
Ok. So what does all this research mean to us in the
It confirms the notion that social support is a pretty
important component of experiencing optimal physical and mental health.
That it matters not only how many support systems you
have access to, but the quality of your perceived interactions and support
The way in which we give and receive support from one
another matters. Gestures and actions taken from a place of thoughtfulness,
non-judgment, presence, and encouragement have a much greater impact on health,
than do supportive behaviors which attempt to cajole, threaten, punish, or
force change in others.
A final word of
These studies are to highlight the hope and uplifting power
that any of us can tap into through social circles. However, having access to
robust social networks provides only one
buffer to stress out of many pathways and it is something we always have the
possibility to experience more of if we desire.
If you are currently experiencing social anxiety, loneliness,
or a chronic condition, I want to remind you of your innocence and worth.
Please do not worry or blame yourself if things aren't going too well at the
moment. That is not the purpose of this article. Plus, the truth is that
studies just highlight generalized information. There are outliers in every
I also want to share
these final two key take-homes with you.
#1. One study found people
who reporting giving support
(not receiving it) experienced even more positive results in their lives.
ironically, those who reported giving more support ended up receiving more
support (Piferi & Lawler, 2006).
#2. In a study of one support group, it was found that some of
the group members experienced negative health effects, even with they
self-reported positive social support and less anxiety (Cousson-Gelie et. al, 2007). The researchers speculated that it was
because the participants did not allow themselves to fully feel their negative
So here is the bottom line: the best thing you can do for
yourself is be authentic to yourself...to what your feeling..to where you are
at...and just keep an open mind out for opportunities you come across to learn
more about being human and the capacity for healing.
Call to action: If you
haven't yet, I highly recommend Anita Moorjani's book or audio book "Dying To Be Me" which describes her miraculously
healing. She also does a deep dive into what I just mentioned...the art and
power of living authentically and following our own unique insights.
In closing, here at Mental Happy, community is at the core of
our mission. We exist to provide education, inspiration, practical tools, and
support in order to guide you towards your own innate wellbeing and ability to
heal. No matter what circumstance you are going through, you do have wisdom to
share that could benefit us all. Every person's voice matters...and we really
As the saying goes, "Two heads are better than one."
This article shows how this can be true.