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    Relationship to Others


     

    By Keryn Breiterman-loader

    Social support is “an interpersonal transaction involving one or more of the following: (1) emotional concern (liking, love, empathy), (2) instrumental aid (goods or services), (3) information (about the environment), or (4) appraisal (information relevant to self-evaluation).”[1] Social support has long been correlated with increased mental and physical wellbeing. Research shows that it can be a major force enabling us to cope with stress and life’s challenges in a variety of ways, which in turn can lead to improved mental, emotional, and physiological well-being.

    Coping With Stress

    Social support is also correlated with decreased stress and anxiety.[2] Having a strong social network increases both our perceived and actual resources for dealing with life’s challenges. These resources help us effectively deal problems which may be causing us stress, and our perceived feelings of support can also decrease the psychological distress we feel when dealing with stressful situations.[3] Physiologically, social support may buffer against stress through the hormone oxytocin, which is associated with both social interaction and pro-social behavior, as well as through decreased stress variables such as cortisol levels, blood pressure, and immune function.[4],[5],[6]

    Many correlational studies on social support and physical health have shown that social support is associated with improved functioning of the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems, allowing people with more social support to live longer, healthier lives.[7],[8],[9] Many of these health benefits are derived from the decreases in stress, and therefore the negative stress-related physiological responses, such as lower serum cholesterol, uric acid levels, and higher indices of immune function.[10]

    Self-Efficacy and Belonging

    Social support may additionally support physiological and mental wellbeing through its connection to self-efficacy. Social support has been shown to be facilitate to self-efficacy[11] which in turn determines the initiation, effort, and length of coping behavior in individuals when faced with difficulty.[12] Mentally and emotionally healthy people exhibit greater coping behavior than those experiencing psychosis, and both social support and self-efficacy are correlated with increased coping behavior.[13]

    The need to belong is one of the most fundamental human needs. Thus, feelings of belonging formed by social support systems can lead to improved social and psychological functioning and protect against depression.[14],[15] A lack of interpersonal attachments has been linked with poorer health, adjustment, and well-being.[16]

    Finding Social Support

    Social support can be found in friends and family, as well as support groups. Research shows that support groups have positive benefits for the elderly, individuals with chronic or terminal illness, the widowed, the obese, alcoholics, single parents, and the mentally and physically handicapped.[17] Social support can be found in virtually any group of people. Much of the research that has been done on social support has studied positive social interactions. Destructive or negative social interactions may actually increase stress. Thus, when seeking social support, try to look for support from people and groups who you actually find supportive and who you have positive interactions with.

    Here are some resources to help you find a support group:

     



    Bibliography

    • [1] Taylor, Shelley E., Roberta L. Falke, Steven J. Shoptaw, and Rosemary R. Lichtman. "Social Support, Support Groups, and the Cancer Patient." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 45, no. 5 (1986): 608-615.

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    • [2] Cohen, Sheldon, Wills, Thomas A. “Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis.” Psychological Bulletin, 98, no.2, (1985): 310-357. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.98.2.310
    • [3] Ibid.
    • [4] Uvnas-Moberg, Kerstin. “Oxytocin May Mediate the Benefits of Positive Social Interactions and Emotions.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23, no.8, (1998): 819-835. doi:10.1016/S0306-4530(98)00056-0
    • [5] Holt-Lunstad JBirmingham WLight KC. “The influence of depressive symptomatology and perceived stress on plasma and salivary oxytocin before, during and after a support enhancement intervention.” Psychoneuroendocrinology, Article in Press, (2011). doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.03.007
    • [6] Heinrichs, Markus, Baumgartner, Thomas, Kirschbaum, Clemens, Ehlert, Ulrike. “Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress.” Society of Biological Psychiatry, 54, (2003): :1389 –1398.
    • [7] Uchino, Bert N.Cacioppo, John T.Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K. “The relationship between social support and physiological processes: A review with emphasis on underlying mechanisms and implications for health.” Psychological Bulletin, 119, no.3, (1996): 488-531. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.119.3.488
    • [8] Thomas, PD, Goodwin, JM, Goodwin, JS. “Effect of social supporton stress-related changes in cholesterol level, uric acid level, and immune function in an elderly sample.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 142, (1985): 735-737
    • [9] Uchino, Bert N., “Social Support and Health: A Review of Physiological Processes Potentially Underlying Links to Disease Outcomes.” Journal of behavioral Medicine, 29, no.4, (2006): DOI: 10.1007/s10865-006-9056-5
    • [10] Thomas, PD, Goodwin, JM, Goodwin, JS. “Effect of social supporton stress-related changes in cholesterol level, uric acid level, and immune function in an elderly sample.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 142, (1985): 735-737
    • [11] Holahn, Carole K., Holahan, Charles J. “Self-efficacy, Social Support, and Depression in Aging: a Longitudinal Analysis.” Journal of Gerontology, 42, no.1, (1987): 65-68.
    • [12] Bandura, Albert, “Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change.” Psychological Review, 84, no.2, (1977): 191-215. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191
    • [13] Macdonald, Elspeth M., Pica, Simone, McDonald, Shelley, Hayes, Robyn L., Baglioni, Anthony J., Jr. “Stress and coping in early psychosis: Role of symptoms, self-efficacy, and social support in coping with stress.” British Journal of Psychiatry, 172, no.33, (1998): 122-127.
    • [14] Hagerty, Bonnie M., Williams, Reg A., Coyne, James C., Early, Margaret R. “Sense of belonging and indicators of social and psychological functioning.” Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 10, no.4, (1996): 235-244. doi:10.1016/S0883-9417(96)80029-X
    • [15] Hagerty, Bonnie M., Williams, A. Reg. “The Effects of Sense of Belonging, Social Support, Conflict, and Loneliness on Depression.” Nursing Research, 48, no.4, (1999), 215-219. doi: 10.1097/00006199- 199907000-00004
    • [16] Baumeister, Roy F.Leary, Mark R. “The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation.” Psychological Bulletin, 117, no.3, (1995): 497-529. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497
    • [17] Taylor, Shelley E., Falke, Roberta L., Lichtman, Rosemary R. “Social Support, Support Groups, and the Cancer Patient.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, no.5, (1986): 608-615. doi:10.1037/0022- 006X.54.5.608
     

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