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Social Support: The Hows and Whys of Cultivating a Circle of Friends

Many Hands Make Light Stress: Getting Adequate Social Support

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Updated March 20, 2012

Social Support: The Hows and Whys of Cultivating a Circle of Friends

Social support from a network of friends can be a good safety net when you're feeling stressed. ©iStockphoto.com

Why It Pays To Have A Group:

Studies on social support show that having one or two close and supportive friends is at least as valuable to emotional health as having a large group of friendly acquaintances or more shallow friendships. However, having social support from several supportive friends would be the best of both worlds. You probably already know if you're more comfortable with one good friend or many, but there are some good reasons to have at least a few different friends to fall back on:

  • If you have only one person supporting you through difficult times, you may wear that person out, or feel unsupported if that person is unavailable. It’s better for everyone if you have at least a few people to depend on.
  • You draw different benefits from different types of people. Having an outgoing friend to party with, a knowledgeable friend to gain information and insights from, and an empathic friend to be a good listener during tough times, for example, provides a better blend of social support than any one of these people alone could give.
  • Your friends can bring out different qualities in one another that benefit all of you. For example, your outgoing friend could bring your shy empathic friend out of her shell, and the three of you could go out and party together. Plus, your friends can introduce you to more friends, giving you a greater pool of pre-screened potential friends.
  • Studies show that a sense of belonging is extremely important for emotional health and well-being; those who have social support but don't feel a sense of belonging are much more likely to suffer from depression, for example.

How to Meet New People:

If you’re not still in school or working for a large company with a built-in social structure and constant opportunities to meet new people, it’s still easy to build new friendships. Here are a few ways to meet new people:

  • Join a Gym. If you’re not comfortable striking up a conversation with the person on the next stairmaster, most gyms offer yoga, aerobics or even martial arts classes, which provide a more intimate setting and opportunities to meet people, perhaps finding a workout buddy.
  • Get Involved in a Hobby. If you enjoy making things with your hands, perhaps you can enroll in a community art class. If you like writing, a writer’s workshop will provide a great opportunity to improve your writing skills and get to know other writers at the same time. Joining a class geared toward your interests ensures you’ll improve yourself, and you’ll meet people with whom you already have something in common!
  • Volunteer! Getting involved with a charity you believe in will give you a sense of doing something positive to help the world, which has a great way of relieving stress in itself, and you’ll meet others with similarly big hearts and great passion for helping.
  • Get a Pet Not only will you derive physical and emotional benefits from being a pet owner, you can meet others at dog parks or pet stores. There are even park days for passionate rabbit owners! Let your ‘best friend’ help you connect with other (human) friends.
  • Have a Party If you invite all of your current friends and encourage each to bring a friend, you’ll have a pool of new people to meet. Plus, you may inspire your friends to throw their own parties, where you’ll meet even more new people.
  • Smile! This one may sound simple, but if you give off an ‘approachable vibe’, you may find that you’re striking up conversations with new people wherever you go. Not all these conversations need to lead to a new friendship, but some might, and just one warm exchange with someone new can brighten up your day (and theirs)!

For more information and resources on stress and stress management, see these ongoing stress management resources.

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