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Live Longer and Better With Social Support

Kim is licensed in mental health and addiction counseling. Her education is in business, counseling, and health administration.

Building Social Support

People who are lonely, depressed, and isolated are more likely to die prematurely than people who feel a connection in their life. Feeling connected and cared for helps us cope with everyday stress and recover from illness. A social support network can add years to our lives.

Having a supportive social network isn’t something we are either born with or born without. There are strategies we can learn that will help us build a social network. Building a social support network can involve increasing the number of social contacts we have and improving the quality of the social relationships we already have.

Social supports are relationships that are rewarding, enriching, and helpful. They have a positive focus and have minimal conflict. Disagreements and differences of opinion are present in supportive relationships, but they are resolved in a peaceful and effective way. A social support network can include a variety of people; family, friends, spouses, girlfriend/boyfriend, church or spiritual group members, an athletic team, a personal trainer, a mental health professional, a classmate, neighbors, club members, or support group members.

Supportive relationships can make us feel good about ourselves and more optimistic about the future. Social relationships are an important part of our lives. We all have our own preferences about what makes up a good support network, and our preferences change over time. We have different ideas about what we want from our social relationships at different times, and whether we want to make changes in the number of relationships we have or the quality of those relationships.

Social Support

Feeling connected and cared for helps us cope with everyday stress and recover from illness.

Reflection Questions

Reflecting or journaling on the following questions can be a helpful way to decide what, if any, changes we want to make in our social support network:

  • Who are the people in your life that support you?
  • What kinds of things do people do that you find supportive?
  • Which aspects of your relationships are you satisfied with?
  • Which aspects of your relationships would you like to change?
  • In what ways are you supportive of other people?
  • Are you satisfied with the way that you are supportive of other people?
  • Would you like to have more social support in your life?

Supportive Relationships

Supportive relationships can make us feel good about ourselves and more optimistic about the future.

Increase the Number of Relationships in Our Support Network

If we want to increase the number of people in our network, we will need to find places to meet people, have something to say to them, and listen to what they have to say.

Overcoming Shyness

If we are shy or have had negative experiences meeting people in the past these steps can be more challenging and may need to be taken gradually over time. For example, a shy person might want to practice just going to where people are more often, smiling more or only saying, “Hello” at first. If we have had negative past experiences with meeting people, we can look at what happened in the past and things we can do to get a better response from others next time. Sometimes, reviewing the benefits of having a support network can help us overcome any resistance we might have because of shyness or a bad experience. We might also call upon the support of someone already in our network to help us at first. We can explain to them what our goal is and how they can help.

Conversation Skills

Once we have decided where we will go to meet people, it helps to know how to start a conversation with someone, and how to keep the conversation going once it is started. We want to choose someone who does not appear to be busy. If they are busy, they will not want to stop what they are doing to talk to us.

Next, we will want to choose an interesting topic. Usually, we can say something about what we are doing when we start the conversation. For example, if I have entered a cooking contest, I can comment on the contest or my entry. If we are at a museum or on a tour, I can talk about the art piece I am looking at or a site on the tour. I can also choose a topic about something else. I might comment about another tour I took or one I plan to take. I can comment about the weather, a recent event, or a hobby or interest. I can start a conversation by introducing myself, but I will need to be prepared to say something interesting after the introduction is made.

Once a conversation is started, we can focus on keeping it going. It is important to look at people and make good eye contact with them. This sends a message that we are interested in them and what they have to say. Some people are uncomfortable with eye contact or belong to a culture where too much eye contact is considered rude or inappropriate. Looking near a person’s eyes, at their forehead or nose, is an alternative.

Smiling and nodding is another way to show interest, and shows that we are listening to the other person. It also shows the other person that we don’t need to dominate the conversation by doing all the talking, and that we are interested in their ideas and point of view. We can now shift our focus to what the other person is saying or doing. Asking questions about what they are doing or saying, or responding to their comments shows that we are interested and will keep the conversation going. If they don’t seem interested in continuing the conversation, we can change to another topic or politely end the conversation.

At this early stage of meeting someone, we want to be careful not to share too much information (TMI) that is very personal. Sharing too much too soon often makes people uncomfortable and can make it harder to make a connection with this person. When we get to know them better over time, we can share more personal information and they will feel more comfortable talking about more personal topics.


Be careful not to share too much information (TMI) that is very personal.

parks, museums, nature clubs, tour groups, book clubs, walking groups...

parks, museums, nature clubs, tour groups, book clubs, walking groups...

Where to Meet People

We can meet people in a lot of places. It is generally easier to meet people in public places where people go for recreation, pleasure, a class or a hobby; or where people go to do errands or to conduct business. It can be helpful to be open to meeting people in the places we already go and making ourselves appear approachable when we go by making eye contact, smiling, and not looking too busy or pre-occupied. While we don’t need to go to extremes to appear “perfect” to others, we do want to be sure that we appear neat and clean. Clothes that are wrinkled, stained, fit poorly or have an odor will not help our cause! It can also lower our self-confidence. Dressing too well for the occasion can work against us too, as it can be perceived as intimidating or inappropriate by others. Some good places to meet people are:

  • Public library
  • School or a class
  • Work
  • Volunteer program
  • Support groups
  • Places of worship
  • Parks
  • Museums
  • Bookstores
  • Coffee shops
  • Concerts, theater, opera
  • Special interest groups or activities – political campaigns, environmental cleanup projects, charity drives and fundraisers, kite flying contests, cook-offs, baking contests, quilting clubs, writer groups, tour groups, walking clubs, nature or bird watching groups
  • Health or exercise clubs – YWCA or YMCA or private gyms and fitness clubs
  • Community events – fairs, festivals, civic groups, park and school board meetings
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Improve the Quality of Our Social Relationships

The most rewarding relationships are those in which both people care about each other and respect each other’s points of view. Showing a person that you care about him or her is an important part of being in a close relationship. If we want to develop close friendships or intimate relationships, we will want to be able to share more about ourselves, be open to listening when the other person shares, and be willing to do things with and for the other person. Three main things to consider when developing close relationships are the things we say to the other person, the things we do with or for the other person, and how much and how soon we share personal information about ourselves.

Rewarding Relationships

The most rewarding relationships are those in which both people care about each other and respect each other’s points of view.

Relationship Skills

Expressing positive feelings and giving compliments draws people closer together. This can include expressing and showing affection for each other, but can also be expressing admiration or appreciation for a person’s actions or personality traits. Asking questions about the other person is a way of getting to know the other person’s thoughts and feelings, understanding their point of view, and showing an interest in getting to know them better. Gradually sharing more about ourselves can also help develop closeness. We can share our feelings and opinions.We can share our interests and things we like. We can share about past experiences. We’ll discuss when and what to share about ourselves below.

Understanding Others

Understanding another person’s point of view involves imagining and asking what that person might be thinking or feeling about something. We can imagine how the other person might think and feel, but it is important to check it out with the person to see if we are correct. For example, if a person shares about a class they are taking, we might say, “It sounds like you don’t like this class.Is that right?” The person might respond with, “It’s not the class so much as the time the class starts. It is stressful to travel so far in rush hour traffic and worry about getting there on time. I also don’t have time to eat and am usually hungry.”

Being Together

Doing things together is important. Identifying some things that we can both enjoy and doing them together can be rewarding and enriching, and bring us closer. Negotiating and compromising are ways to show we care and that we are not selfish. In close relationships, neither person can always have their own way. Other ways to show we care are offering to help, surprising the other person in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, and spending some of our time trying to make them happy. “Being there” in their time of need, and we all have times of need, is an important way of showing we care. Just recognizing when someone needs help is an important way to show we care.

Sharing About Ourselves

Deciding where, when, what and how much to share about ourselves can be difficult. If we share too much too soon, we risk the other person feeling threatened and pulling away from the relationship. If we share too little, it will be difficult to have a close relationship.It is helpful to know that when two people are close, they tend to share the same amount of information about themselves. For example, if one person shares something about their past, the other person usually matches this and shares something about their past. We can sometimes follow the other person’s lead and share as much as they share; and share more over time as we get to know each other better. Deciding what we want to share and what we want to keep to ourselves is a personal decision. It is based partly on whether or not we believe the person will accept us after we have shared.

TMI (again)

If we share too much too soon, we risk the other person feeling threatened and pulling away from the relationship.


Ornish, D., Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy. (1998). Harper Collins Publishers. New York, NY.

Love & Survival

In Love & Survival, Ornish shows that love is just as important to our physical health as it is to our mental health. Love and overall emotional well-being motivates us to make better lifestyle choices and has a powerful effect on our bodies; giving us stronger immune systems, better cardiovascular functioning, and longer life expectancies.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2011 Kim Harris


Kim Harris (author) on October 02, 2012:

Thank you, Roberthewettsr. And thank you for showing support for fellow veterans in your hubs.

rOBERT hEWETT SR. from Louisville, Kentucky on September 29, 2012:

Very thorough and well thought out article Kim. Good advice and information. Thanks for posting this very good Hub.

Kim Harris (author) on October 22, 2011:

I'm glad happyboomernurse introduced us as well, femmeflashpoint. Part of not having social support is feeling like you're the only person in the world who is experiencing what you are experiencing, so finding someone else with a similar experience is re-assuring. Although, as humans we do all have a lot in common. I feel for people who are very ill and in pain, because it's difficult to be sociable or friendly or meet new people under those circumstances. Thanks for reading and sharing some good insights, femmeflashpoint:)

femmeflashpoint on October 22, 2011:

This was my first read of your work, and I must say, I'm thankful to happyboomernurse for the introduction because I've thoroughly enjoyed the article!

It hits close to home for me because in my lines off work, I encounter so many hurting people. The ones who are accepting to encouragement and healing, helping them find and make friends who have suffered a like loss has proven to be hugely beneficial, and before they know it, it's them extending a hand and heart to help.

There are always the few I meet who cannot be helped because they refuse it, and have developed a need to be miserable. But, when they're willing to reach out and make a friend who is willing to support them through rough waters, I feel like I've done a good job, even if only in a small way, by pointing them in the right direction.

You've laid out some great suggestions here for support circle expansion and it's much appreciated!

Kim Harris (author) on October 22, 2011:

So good to "see" you Stephanie Henkel! I do best meeting people in more structured activities like work, church and classes or other organized events than in unstructured activities. It is easy to get overly independent and forget to nurture those relationships though:) Thanks for reading and commenting Stephanie Henkel. Your comment is encouraging.

Kim Harris (author) on October 22, 2011:

Thanks Alastar Packer. I'll have to check Castaway. I'm not a big movie buff, but that sounds right up my alley. I think there are a lot of people who are painfully lonely and shy, and would love to see communities find a way to encourage more interaction. Thanks for taking your time to read and comment Alastar Packer. I appreciate it:)

Stephanie Henkel from USA on October 22, 2011:

Having a social network and friendships is so important, and the information you give about starting up new relationships is invaluable. I was very shy as a child, and I had to learn how to make new friends when my family moved every year or two. I am often in new situations even today, and think that using the techniques you suggested like giving complements and sharing personal information is a wonderful way to start new relationships.

Thanks for a great hub! Voted up, useful and interesting!

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on October 22, 2011:

In introspective pondering I've sometimes thought about how a person would react to suddenly finding themselves all alone in the world. We're definitely social creatures is the conclusion drawn. One movie that comes to mind is Castaway. Your knowledge & advice is spot on here kim; there's no need for any one to ever be lonely or painfully shy.

Kim Harris (author) on October 20, 2011:

My pleasure b. Malin and thanks for reading and commenting. I look forward to "seeing" you around hubpages. Social networks are especially nice on days that are not so easy to enjoy. I had one of those today and am very grateful for my support network:)

b. Malin on October 20, 2011:

Hi Kim, Wonderful, Rich and Informative Hub...Life is short, it should be Enjoyed...Social Networking is one way that many can connect. You have given some good and useful Tips and Thoughts. I look forward to Following your Hubs, and Thank You, for becoming a Follower of Mine.

Kim Harris (author) on October 19, 2011:

thanks frogissGcomrogiss. I wasn't planning another hub on this topic, but if you had something in particular in mind, let me know. I'll see what I can do. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

appreciate it, vern. will keep that in mind - with his permission of course.

Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

@jenubouka - Thanks for reading and commenting. There are a lot of people who prefer less social contact or social contact with fewer people, for different reasons at different times. People who are introverted can be over stimulated by too much social interaction. Some people are very sensitive; some are anxious in social situations; some anger easily, etc. I think answering those questions at the beginning can be helpful in deciding how much if at all we want to change our social network. Choosing not to and not being able to are entirely different too. A lot of people get so isolated and depressed and physically ill that they literally are not able to build a social network without help - and the few supports they had have passed away or moved away. Sometimes, like with addiction and some other problems, we push people away when we really want to be close to others. That's what makes AA and other twelve step groups so successful..... sorry I got preachy. You brought up some good points. Thanks for reading and commenting. I love your comments, jenubouka:)

Vernon Bradley from Yucaipa, California on October 17, 2011:

Hi Kim

If you want to email me or tell me where a house call would be, I would really consider especially if it is close by. I do some house calls and am willing to give back to the community. My email is


Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

@alekhouse - and hi:) This one does have a lot of strategies and specific suggestions of things to do to build a support network - depending on if you want more people, better quality or both. Thanks for reading and commenting, alekhouse.

Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

@ diogenes. good hypothesis, bob. I like that. It actually makes some sense from a survival of the fittest perspective. It sounds so cold, yet rings so true. It's kinda like what vern was saying about social behavior being second nature - "whatever that means." kind of a survival instinct. interesting thought. thanks for sharing it:)

Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

Wow! A crowd has gathered! Hi Vern. It's been awhile! I hope you're well. I reflected on this one a lot too as I was writing - but you know it's not really my style to mix my reflections with the facts. I'm familiar with Bradshaw and will have to google bradshaw and chicken and see what "comes up." I'm actually working with someone telephonically right now in your "neck of the woods" who is extremely isolated. I've thought about asking if you can do a house call! You would love this guy. He couldn't afford you, though. Do you remember the other hub I did about rejection and health? This hub is really the flip side of that one; rejection makes us sick and social support makes us well. Good to see you vern:)

jenubouka on October 17, 2011:

I really value the information provided here, though I am not a social person, I never have been. I do not like a lot of interaction it tends to overstimulate me, making me feel constricted and irritable. With that being read, thank for including some good reads on the subject.

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on October 17, 2011:

Good hub...very informative with lots of good advice.

diogenes from UK and Mexico on October 17, 2011:

Good observations and advise. It's interesting how the body does shut down without regular contact, sex and affection. Must be natural selection saying "if no one wants you, you must be bad for the future of the race, so sayanora sucker!!" Bob

Vernon Bradley from Yucaipa, California on October 17, 2011:

Hi Kim

Been away from posting lately and good to get back here and what a way to start by reading your hub. I could not help but reflect where I am myself with social networking. I am most aware of how varied the responses I get when I am out on my exercise walk. Of course, the way I dress probably does not help. I "bundle" up sort of, no matter what time of year it is and wear a large brimmed hat. But it is interesting how many say hello either first or in response and sometimes I pick up a vibe ahead of time from the person to respect their silence and not even say hello. Kind of interesting.

I also have a shy side to myself altho most people would laugh when I say that or roll their eyes. But I recognize in your hub how I have put into practice many of your suggestions and now they are "second nature" whatever that means!! The thought that remains with me constantly is we are almost in the presence of another human being(s) and how sad not to even acknowledge his/her/their presence. Your comment about dying prematurely with a lack of social contact is interesting as it is true for infants as well. We are definitely social beings and need someone even if it is Wilson.

John Bradshaw had an interesting story about TMI but I cannot share it here!! Don't know how familiar you are with him, but attended mucho of his workshops back in the late 80's. He tells a very funny story about a chicken and that is about all I will say!!



Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

Hi prektjr.dc:) They are literally, not just figuratively, essential. We always hear phrases like that, nod and go on our way. Thanks for taking your time to read, rate and post a comment prektjr.dc. I appreciate it.

Kim Harris (author) on October 17, 2011:

Thanks Tony. There was a statistic that I didn't include about heart patients with depression are 5-6x more likely to die within 6 mos than those without depression. So social contact is literally the "apple a day" that keeps the dr away. Well, of course antidepressants too, because if you're depressed you don't want to see anyone or do anything!

Debbie Carey from Riverton, KS, USA on October 16, 2011:

Support and understanding are essential for true survival in this world. Good hub! Voted up, useful and interesting!

Tony DeLorger from Adelaide, South Australia on October 16, 2011:

As always Kim, well written, informative and so very true. I completely understand having sufferted from depression from the the age of eighteen and having at times withdrawn from social contact. I now understand its importance for a balanced and happy life. Take care

Kim Harris (author) on October 16, 2011:

Hi romper 20. I've always valued social networks, but now that my family is grown and I'm getting older I value them for different reasons. I met with some friends the other night, and one of them is finishing up her cancer treatments. Part of why we were there was to continue to support her, but ironically we got a lot of strength from her. Thanks for reading and commenting, romper....and nice to see you.

Kim Harris (author) on October 16, 2011:

Hi tsmog:) I've been thinking of removing that profile video, but I'll leave it awhile for your amusement:) Thanks for the compliment about empathy being woven in. I like that, and of course, feel free to share. That's what it's here for - that and a few pennies I'll earn. That's neat that you make it a point to evaluate friendships every year. I know what you mean about the friendships - acquaintances, almost friends, friends, friends 4ever, bff's..., etc:) Have a happy b-day and thanks for the kind comments, tsmog.

romper20 from California on October 16, 2011:

I find social networks in general to be a wonderful life tool as well. Thank you and i look forward to more of your hubs :D

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on October 16, 2011:

Awesome! Though I know of you Kim, read some of your work, and listen carefully, I still get a chuckle with your video profile. Oh, I can't remember past yesterday most of the time, and I went back to see your profile and watched it again.

This is a very powerful article. I will share it elsewhere. And, take it to heart. I like the way empathy is woven into the fabric.

I like the support questions. My big B-day is Sept 20. I begin a pre-planning process for the coming year then. One process I do every year is evaluate 'friendships.'

I learned through therapy relationships are valuable. And, learned, for me, defining relationships can make life easier. What I mean kinda' is I have relationships with friends and I have friendly relationships. Kinda' an oxymoron maybe.

This would be great to include in the company newsletter. But, article length in it is held to maybe a couple paragraphs. But, those are some pretty powerful questions. If it is OK, may I use them for a teaser in my next newsletter?

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