Stress, Health and Social Support
Social support from friends, family, and other people is important in maintaining health and emotional well-being.
People who have good friends, many social contacts, and a network of community relations have better health and actually live longer than those who do not. According to research a touch or a hug from a supportive partner calms the alarm circuits of the brain and raises levels of Oxytocin, which may result in reduced heart rate and blood pressure.
Social support enhances health in part because, like having an internal locus of control and feelings of optimism, it bolsters the immune system. Lonely people have poorer immune function than people who are not lonely; students in a network of friends have better immune function before, during and after exam periods than students who are more solitary; and spouses of cancer patients, although under considerable stress themselves, do not show a drop in immune function if they have lots of social support. The cardiovascular system would function much better in individuals who have better social support.
Sometimes, though, informal friendships and family relationships are not quite enough to get people through a rough patch. A more formal source of social support comes from joining with other people who have experienced the same illness, problem, or tragedy. People are particularly likely to benefit from such groups if they have an illness that is life-threatening or stigmatizing, disfigures them in any way; or causes embarrassment. Although being in a support group does not prolong the lives of people with terminal illnesses, it often lessens their suffering and pain.
The elderly population is another group that is at risk for reduced social support. "One such population survey showed that for elderly women, low perceived emotional support predicted higher mortality controlling for baseline demographics and health", according to Reblin and Uchino (2008). One way to address loneliness and isolation in the elderly is to encourage them to volunteer in different organizations. My school district has a program for grandparents to volunteer to read to the young children. The goal for volunteering is that the individuals will meet others who share similar interests and establish a relationship. In another study an interesting trend emerged about the importance of being a support provider. The study found that feelings of social usefulness in the elderly predicted lower disability and mortality.
Men are, on average, less likely than women to seek social support and get help for physical and emotional problems. But several conditions increase men's likelihood of getting help, such as feeling that their problem is not unusual and feeling able to reciprocate any help they get.
According to Reblin and Uchino (2008), social isolation has been identified as a major risk factor for all-cause mortality. Therefore, it is important to engage in some form of social support from friends and family. As well as, engaging in on-going activities with in the community.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 105-120.
Psychological Bulletin, 119, 488-531.