Lean on Your Community for Social Support

close up of volunteers packing food in boxes

If you are an introvert or prefer flying solo, you might not realize it, but “community” can still be a big part of your life. Whether your connections are through school or community groups, your neighborhood or your workplace, we’re all connected to others. We might not be lifelong friends and we might not have deep and meaningful connections to every person in our lives, but every connection can offer one or more types of social support.

Broadly speaking, social support is the help we receive from the relationships in our lives. You might think to receive social support you have to be very close to someone. It can happen that way, but we can also receive social support from people we know even superficially. Here are four types of social support you can get every day from those around you.

Emotional support is probably what most of us think about when we think about social support. This is the warmth, care and nurturing we receive from our relationships. To be able to share our emotions requires a high level of trust, so we are likely to get emotional support from those people we are closest to in our lives. These could be lifelong friends, family members, or just individuals with whom we share a deep connection. However, even people we do not know well can provide emotional support. Knowing someone for a long time or having a strong connection are not requirements for offering emotional support. A perfect stranger can express sympathy to us in a time of need.

Companionship is when we experience a sense of belonging, but companionship does not always have to come from a friend. It is possible for you to experience a sense of belonging and companionship by volunteering at a charity or other event. You might not be friends with any of the other volunteers, but you can experience a sense of belonging as you all work together and share the experience.
Tangible support is receiving actual things from people like financial assistance, material goods or services. On a day-to-day basis many of us probably experience tangible support through services or someone helping us. This could be someone offering to carry something for you or helping you pick up your belongings if you dropped your bag.

Information support, finally, is when we receive guidance or useful information from others. If you have even been lost and asked someone for directions, you received information support. This could also be something more personal like guidance from a mentor or coworker.

The thing about social support is that you can receive it in any combination at the same time. You can have an interaction with someone in which you receive all four kinds of social support, or maybe just one. More importantly, you can receive social support from anyone in your life. You do not have to be close friends with someone or know them for a long time to receive social support. You may need to take the first step in asking for support, but your whole community—all the people you interact with around you – can support you.

With a PhD in Exercise Physiology, Jonathan Dugas spends his days thinking about how we can help more people be more active. With four Ironman finishes and 13 marathons and counting, he’ll see you out on the road.

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