How can a support system help you succeed? 

Find out what a support system is, why it’s important to have one and how having a support system might help you reach your goals.

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Just like it “takes a village to raise a child”, it takes a strong support system to help each of us to get the most out of life. Support systems come in many forms and can positively impact your life in numerous ways. A support system, in the most obvious sense, can provide you with emotional support when you’re going through a tough time or just need to get something off your chest. Beyond this – support systems can enable you to be at your best: as a parent, a professional and within your own health. Keep reading to find out what a support system is, why it’s important to have one, how it can enable you to achieve your goals and how to build one if you don’t currently have one.

What is a support system and why is it important to have one?

The University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work defines a social support system as “a network of people – friends, family, and peers – that we can turn to for emotional and practical support”. Research has shown that these support systems play a very important role in supporting physical and mental health and that they promote effective coping strategies.

What are some types of people you may have in your support system?

Three colleagues walking together

Who are the members of your support system? To answer this question, simply consider who you last opened up to about a challenge or asked for support. Perhaps you asked your mom to look after the kids for an hour so that you could work off some stress at the gym. Maybe you confided in your partner after experiencing a stressful day at work. Perhaps you have a business support system – colleagues you can rely on to support you in achieving goals at work, so your to-do list doesn’t overflow and become too overwhelming. Support system examples can range from family members, friends, partners and colleagues. You might also rely on a professional support system for your mental health such as a counselor or therapist. Anyone who you feel you can trust to confide in or ask for help is part of your support system.

How do I identify my support system?

If you’ve looked at the people in your social circle and are struggling to identify who you can turn to for support, you’re not alone. A 2019 survey published by the American Psychological Association has shown that 55% of Americans feel they could do with at least a little more emotional support. Older teens and young adults are particularly at risk of lacking support, with 61% of 18–25-year old's reporting high levels of loneliness – according to research carried out by Making Caring Common. In an interview with The Harvard Gazette, one of the study’s researchers - Richard Weissbourd - noted, “If every person who’s in pretty good shape can make a commitment to reaching out to one person they are concerned might be lonely once a week, that would be a good thing.”

If you’re not in a position to reach out to someone you think might be lonely, or if you lack a strong support network, the American Psychological Association recommends seeking help and resources through your local community. This might be through a senior center/community center, local library, refugee and immigrant groups or your local YMCA/YWCA. You might also want to seek support through a local psychologist using APA’s Psychologist Locator Service.

How do you build a good support system?

Two women eating lunch together

If you’re still not sure how to develop a support system, the University of Buffalo offers some helpful starting points. These include:

  • Volunteering for a cause that’s important to you (it will help you to meet others who share your interests and values)
  • Join a sports team or your local gym (you might meet new people, and you’ll be looking after your health while you’re at it!)
  • Make an effort to get to know your neighbors and co-workers
  • Start a book club (or any club you’re interested in!)
  • Make use of social networking sites and online resources (whilst also using common sense surrounding your own health and safety when using the internet, of course)

What are some ways that a support system might help you reach your goals?

The short answer to this is that it’s not easy doing it all on your own. Us humans are social creatures – we need connection and, in this busy world, we also need each other’s support. Whether your goals involve getting enough sleep and eating better or running a marathon and launching your own business – a support system can help. Having someone to offer perspective, give encouragement and step in to help when you need it is invaluable and can help to reduce everyday limits such as stress, loneliness or even just a lack of motivation.

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