Is there anyone in your life you can reach out to when you need to talk to someone?
Is there someone you can rely on if you need a helping hand?
Is there someone you can call when you have good news to share?
Have there been times in your life, when you searched online for information on how to handle a particular issue, reached for the phone to talk to someone when you had a bad day, or accepted help from someone when you felt overwhelmed? We all, at one time or another, and particularly in times of stress, look for ways to ameliorate stress and negative feelings. Social support can help to manage stress and we all need a good social support network. There are, however, different ways in which our support system can be helpful and it’s important that we learn how to ask for the type of support that we want/need at any given moment. For example, having a listening ear from an empathic friend feels different from getting advice from a friend who is an active problem-solver. We may feel overwhelmed when the support does not match what we need at that moment. Understanding the type and/or amount of social support we need at any given time is an important skill to have and helps us to have our needs met more effectively and efficiently.
Types of social support
• Informational Support: provides advice, suggestions, and information to help you problem-solve or explore potential next steps that may work well. For example, reaching out to your doctor to get information related to your medical condition or reaching out to someone who has previously lost their job for tips on coping with the changes.
• Emotional Support: offers empathy, trust, warmth, care, and nurturance. Taking into consideration your emotional wellness, listening to your concerns or challenges, allowing you to express your feelings and emotions, or providing you with physical comfort (e.g. hugs or a pat on the back). For example, reaching out to a friend who you can confide in and express your concerns to, without being judged.
• Practical/Instrumental Support: offers tangible aid and direct ways of support. For example, someone who can take an active stance to assist with specific tasks or responsibilities, helping with chores, or providing transportation. This kind of support helps to ease some of the daily stressors you may experience.
• Companionship/Esteem Support: provides a sense of social belonging and engages with you in shared social or self-care activities. For example, someone who would join you in different activities, including going for a walk, taking a yoga class, or watching a movie together. It could also be someone who reminds you of your strengths or let you know that they believe in you.
How to utilize your social support system?
Many people in your life can offer social support. These can include your parents, spouse or partner, children, siblings, other family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, health professionals, religious or social support groups, and sometimes even strangers. Different people may offer different types of support, so it is very likely that you will need to rely on different people for different types of support. Before reaching out for support, you may want to take a moment for self-reflection and think about what you need to feel supported and empowered.
• What would be most helpful?
• What types of support do I need?
• What type of support am I most comfortable with receiving?
• Who can I reach out for the support I need?
• Am I comfortable with asking for support?
After reflecting on your needs, tell the person exactly what he or she can do to support you. You might think, “If my partner/friend really knows me, he or she will know how to help me.” The problem is that your partner/friend cannot read your mind. By waiting for them to offer their support is not the best way to approach your social support system and might lead you to feel frustrated for not getting the types of support you need. Be specific, clear, and concrete when you ask for what you need so your support system is more likely to provide you with exactly what the support that matches your needs. Similarly, do not assume that you know what types of support your partner, friends, or others need, it is always best to check-in with them.
Social support is associated with increased psychological and physical well-being. Many may find it hard to ask for help or to utilize social support system during difficult times. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength. Just imagine that if your loved one or close friend is in need of help, would you rather them reach out for support or isolate themselves and face the issues themselves? When you are reaching out for social support, you are allowing people in your life to have the opportunity to extend their help and feel that their help is valued.
Dr. Ooi Ting Huay