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Benefits of Social Support for Maintaining Healthy Habits

Updated on January 28, 2013

What Is Social Support?

It's likely that most of us haven't spent much, if any, time considering the importance of social support or our own social support network or social support systems. Social support is the term given to the emotional and physical support, advice, tips and other benefits you receive from those around you.

"No man is an island" or "We don't live in a vacuum" explain in part the fact that human beings are social creatures. We interact with others in nearly every aspect of our lives, from the teller at the bank to the attendant at the toll booth to our family and friends.

Certainly, not everyone with whom we interact will become part of our social support system or network, but perhaps we miss opportunities either to gather people into our social support system -- or to become part of theirs.

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The Value of Social Support in Health and Healthy Habits

Formal social support theory has differing perspectives, but in general working terms, positive social support helps to alleviate or prevent the effects of stress, promotes self-esteem and the ability to self-regulate through the development of interpersonal relationships and the various rewards and benefits that result. In brief, social support systems or networks -- interpersonal relationships --can and do effect each of us emotionally, mentally and physically.

Think how much better you feel about choices you've made when those people around you agree with or support your choices. It needn't be everyone you know, but there are key people in your life whose opinions and thoughts you value highly. When those people "buy in" to what you are doing, you feel validated. Your image of yourself may improve or remain the same; it certainly won't erode in the face of such validation, such moral support.

These are the types of people and relationships you'll want to seek out as you begin to make positive changes in your health habits or simply wish to maintain the healthy habits you already have.

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Choose Your Social Support System Wisely

Just as your social support network can help to promote the development and maintenance of healthy habits, it can work against your best interests if you choose those who surround you unwisely.

If too many of your interpersonal relationships are with people who promote negativity, are often cynical or critical, or enjoy and employ personal drama, you may find yourself in an emotional energy deficit. Interacting too often or too closely with these personality traits can deepen self-doubt or tendencies towards negativity and defeat in yourself, or lead to inertia, lack of motivation or even depression.

Social support theory is at least partially involved in the rules for those on probation for criminal charges and parolees that seek to prevent them from contact with people convicted of felonies. The idea that individuals who have had their own brushes with the law avoiding interpersonal relationships with like-minded individuals seeks to diminish reinforcement of negative behavior or ideas. The probation/parole officer is a member of those individual's positive social support system, along with co-workers and supervisors in a job, classmates in any additional schooling, and/or members of support groups to which the person belongs.

Forms and Benefits of Social Support Systems

Your healthy habits are supported with positive reinforcement from your social network.
Your healthy habits are supported with positive reinforcement from your social network. | Source
Some forms of social support are informal, other forms may include special interest groups or social media networks.
Some forms of social support are informal, other forms may include special interest groups or social media networks. | Source
When you're teetering on the brink of making a bad decision, contact with someone in your social support network can be all you need to maintain your healthy choices.
When you're teetering on the brink of making a bad decision, contact with someone in your social support network can be all you need to maintain your healthy choices. | Source

Beneficial Types of Social Support and Interpersonal Relationships

Support groups for various concerns or issues are perhaps the most widely utilized forms of social support systems. Support groups provide a setting and formal or informal structure for people with certain values, causes, concerns or goals to join together and support one another through conversation, sharing of experiences, tips and helpful information, problem-solving and even positive critiques.

Either within your own community or on the Internet, you are likely to find a support group that matches your interests and the healthy habit(s) you are seeking to maintain whether that be abstinence from alcohol, weight loss, learning to live with a certain health condition or disorder and many more.

Less structured and more individual forms of social support and interpersonal relationships to help you begin or maintain health habits are your family circle, extended family, friends, co-workers, clergy or spiritual adviser, teachers, coaches and neighbors.

If you're someone who has a small social circle, little family interaction or find those you usually interact with to be negative influences, you may want to begin to meet new people or open yourself up to new experiences to improve your social support network. Look to community events that interest you, consider taking a class of some kind, seek volunteer work or join your local YMCA; these are just some of the avenues open to you.

If you are shy or introverted or limited in your mobility or transportation, meeting new people in "real life" can seem more difficult. Hone your people skills by joining in conversations online or interacting in support and/or discussion groups until you feel more comfortable with your interpersonal skills. Even though you may never meet in person those friends you cultivate online, their friendship and social support is every bit as valuable as that of "real world" friends.

Teaching and Mentoring as Social Support

Last, but not least, one of the best ways to maintain your healthy habits is to teach or mentor others. Teaching and mentoring reinforces your own values and methods while allowing you to share your passion and experiences with others who might benefit from the same.


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    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Healthylife2, I hope you're able to find the right group for you. If you'd care to share your journey to finding one, I'd be interested to learn how it goes.

      Thank you for reading, commenting, voting and Sharing.

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Excellent article on the value of social support. I wish I could find more people that focus on healthy eating to keep me on track. Most of my friends eat whatever tastes good and drink. I have attended meetups but most are farther away and take a lot of effort. However, I am optimistic I will find that social support when I have the time to put in more effort. Voted up and shared!