How many of us take our friends and social networks for granted? I suspect we all appreciate them at some level but it’s when we need help that we truly feel the benefit of support. Of course the kind of support we get depends on our needs and this shows that more than one kind of social support exists.
Think of friendship as a social support, both in terms of what is actually being done to (a) help us and (b) how it makes us feel.
Here’s an Example:
Two people at work are doing exactly the same job. One day the workload increases and they both begin to feel the pressure. The boss picks up what is happening and provides exactly the same amount of practical support to both people. As a result one person feels huge relief but the other remains stressed. What’s happening? Well it’s simply a reflection of what we know to be true in life. Some people receive huge amounts of practical and emotional support through friendship or close relatives, yet they still feel relatively unsupported.
It’s not easy to measure how someone perceives support, but we can measure the effect of actual support. Because of this we know, for example, that low levels of social relationships are associated with an increased risk of mortality. For example, studies into breast cancer show that longer survival is associated with women who have more friendships and deeper friendships and who work outside of the home.
Friendships appear to enhance health regardless of stress. In fact the health benefits of friendship appear most evident during periods of high stress. In this regard social support seems to act as a kind of reserve and a resource that dampens the worse effects of stress and enables the person to cope more effectively during periods of high stress.
Friendships are probably more powerful than we might imagine. They improve our mood, reduce our stress, boost our happiness and help us live longer lives. Anything that helps us cope with traumas such as serious illness, loss of a job or the death of a loved one is something to value. Because close friends share so many of our own values it’s perhaps little wonder than many people will turn to them even before their partner or spouse.