Social support good for your health
Building relationships with others is important to our health. Who are the important people in your life? Who makes you feel better about yourself? Healthy supportive relationships contribute significantly to our sense of well-being.
Think about your support system for a moment. Get out a piece of paper and draw five concentric circles – a small circle in the middle and then four more around it, making each circle a little bigger. When you are done, your drawing will look like a target. Make the circles big enough so that you can write in them.
- Write your name in the inner most circle, the smallest one.
- In the next circle write down the names of your immediate family members. Usually these would be people you live with. A spouse, your children; possibly your parents or a brother or sister if they live with you. Some people include their pets.
- In the next circle write the names of other family members or friends. These are people you feel close to, but who don’t live with you. These are people you can count on. Include people in this circle who you feel make a real difference in your life. This could include grown children who no longer live with you, your brothers and sisters, grandparents, cousins, and friends. Maybe you would put your minister in this circle. Every person’s network is different. You might decide that your minister belongs in this circle while someone else might feel they belong in the next circle.
- In the fourth circle write down the names of acquaintances. These could be neighbors, distant relatives, people you work with, a minister, individuals from your church or a social group you belong to. These are people who you might stop to say hello to if you saw them on the street, but you wouldn’t share any secrets with them. Your contact with these individuals is more limited and more formal.
- Now think about all the people in the community who have an influence on your life even though you don’t know them by name – the mayor, county commissioners, policemen, teachers, social workers, the hospital administrator, public health nurses, the bank president, business owners, the YMCA, etc. These are people/organizations who influence your life because of the rules and policies that they set. Some represent formal sources of assistance and help that goes beyond what families or friends can provide.
Your social network is a valuable resource. Research suggests that people with large support networks are healthier. Support networks have an effect on your mental and physical health. They can help you deal with stress and grief and ward off isolation and depression. Your social support network influences your physical health by influencing when you go to the doctor and for what. Your network also impacts your ability to make health related behavior changes. It is difficult to reduce fat or salt in a diet, or to become physically active on a regular basis when family members and friends make fun of you or discourage your efforts to change. On the other hand, it becomes easier to maintain a behavior change or carry out a treatment plan when you have the support of family and friends.
As we move further and further from our inner circle, our trust level and commitment to people diminishes. Our attitudes to a great degree determine which people we assign to each of these circles. The tighter we draw our circles, the more we close ourselves off from people who could make a difference in our lives. Look at your support network and think of strategies for moving more people into the inner circles of your network. You and they will benefit.