Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress

Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. Here's how to build and maintain these essential relationships.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you've had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. And the lack of social support can lead to isolation and loneliness. Since supportive family, friends and co-workers are such an important part of your life, it's never too soon to cultivate these important relationships.

What is a social support network?

A social support network is made up of friends, family and peers. Social support is different from a support group, which is generally a structured meeting run by a lay leader or mental health professional.

Although both support groups and support networks can play an important role in times of stress, a social support network is something you can develop when you're not under stress. It provides the comfort of knowing that your friends are there for you if you need them.

You don't need to formalize your support network. A coffee break with a friend at work, a quick chat with a neighbor, a phone call to your sibling, a visit to a house of worship or volunteer work are all ways to develop and foster lasting relationships with others.

Risks of isolation and benefits of social support

Studies have demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are associated with a greater risk of poor mental health and poor cardiovascular health, as well as other health problems. Other studies have shown the benefit of a network of social support, including the following:

  • Improving the ability to cope with stressful situations
  • Alleviating the effects of emotional distress
  • Promoting lifelong good mental health
  • Enhancing self-esteem
  • Lowering cardiovascular risks, such as lowering blood pressure
  • Promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors
  • Encouraging adherence to a treatment plan

Cultivating your social support network

If you want to improve your mental health and your ability to combat stress, surround yourself with at least a few good friends and confidants. Here are some ideas for building your social network:

  • Volunteer. Pick a cause that's important to you and get involved. You're sure to meet others who share similar interests and values.
  • Join a gym or fitness group. Incorporating physical fitness into your day is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. You can make friends while you exercise. Look at gyms in your area or check a local community center.
  • Take a class. A local college or community education course puts you in contact with others who share similar hobbies or pursuits.
  • Look online. Social networking sites can help you stay connected with friends and family. Many good sites exist for people going through stressful times, such as chronic illness, loss of a loved one, a new baby, divorce and other life changes. Be sure to stick to reputable sites, and be cautious about arranging in-person meetings.

Give and take: The foundation of social networks

A successful relationship is a two-way street that requires your active participation. Here are some suggestions for nurturing your relationships:

  • Stay in touch. Answering phone calls, returning emails and reciprocating invitations let people know you care.
  • Don't compete. Be happy instead of jealous when your friends succeed.
  • Be a good listener. Listen when your friends are speaking. Find out what's important to them.
  • Don't overdo it. Be careful not to overwhelm friends and family with phone calls and emails. Save those high-demand times for when you really need them.
  • Appreciate your friends and family. Take time to say thank you and express how important they are to you.
  • Give back. Be available for family and friends when they need support.

The bottom line

Remember that a goal of building your social support network is to reduce your stress level, not add to it. Watch for situations that seem to drain your energy. For example, avoid spending too much time with someone who is constantly negative and critical. Similarly, steer clear of people involved in unhealthy behaviors, such as alcohol or substance abuse.

Taking the time to build a social support network is a wise investment not only in your mental well-being but also in your physical health and longevity. Start making more friends or improving the relationships you already have. Whether you're the one getting the support or the one doling out the encouragement, you'll reap rewards.

Aug. 29, 2020 See more In-depth

See also

  1. 3 simple strategies to help you focus and de-stress
  2. 3 ways to become more stress resilient
  3. 3 ways to learn patience and amp up your well-being
  4. 4 proven ways you can feel happier
  5. 5 ways to bring play back into your life
  6. A Very Happy Brain
  7. Adapt to put stress in its place
  8. Anger management: Your questions answered
  9. Are your holidays a dietary free-for-all?
  10. Balancing work and life responsibilities
  11. Being assertive
  12. Bridge pose
  13. Can yoga help me keep caregiver stress in check?
  14. Caregiver stress
  15. Caregiver stress
  16. Cat/cow pose
  17. Chase away the winter blues
  18. Child's pose
  19. Cobra
  20. Control email to regain control of your life
  21. Coping with excess information
  22. Coping with job stress
  23. Coronavirus grief
  24. COVID-19 and your mental health
  25. Coping with unemployment caused by COVID-19
  26. Destress with breathing
  27. Denial
  28. Does stress make rheumatoid arthritis worse?
  29. Downward-facing dog
  30. Dreading a family holiday gathering?
  31. Ease stress to reduce your psoriasis flares
  32. Feeling overwhelmed? Take a break
  33. Forgiveness
  34. Great expectations: How to keep them from creating unhappiness
  35. Have you had a good laugh today?
  36. Holidays don't have to break the bank
  37. How decluttering your space could make you healthier and happier
  38. How sharing kindness can make you healthier & happier
  39. How to focus on the present for long-term progress
  40. Job burnout
  41. Job satisfaction
  42. Laugh more, stress less
  43. Learn to reduce stress through mindful living
  44. Learn to say no and enjoy the holidays
  45. Lifestyle strategies for pain management
  46. Manage stress through problem-solving
  47. Manage stress to improve psoriatic arthritis symptoms
  48. Mountain pose
  49. Need better work-life balance?
  50. Stress-relief tips
  51. New School Anxiety
  52. Perfect holiday? Forget about it!
  53. Pet therapy
  54. Positive thinking
  55. Problem-solving
  56. Resilience
  57. Say no, to say yes to less stress
  58. Seated spinal twist
  59. Setbacks and criticism — Don't let them derail you
  60. Slide show: Yoga poses
  61. Spirituality and stress relief
  62. Standing forward bend
  63. Stress and high blood pressure
  64. Stress and technology
  65. Holiday stress
  66. Prevent stress setbacks
  67. Stress relief from laughter
  68. How to say no
  69. Stress relievers
  70. Stressed out? Skip the late show
  71. Stressed? Set yourself up for success
  72. Support groups
  73. The power of positive thinking
  74. Tired of feeling hassled? Try these tips
  75. To manage anxiety, start with the way you think
  76. Use the 80/20 rule to manage time and reduce stress
  77. Warrior 1
  78. What is hot yoga?
  79. What is reflexology?
  80. Why aromatherapy is showing up in hospital surgical units
  81. Work-life balance