Aristotle once said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” Social relationships are important, especially when we are experiencing tough times. Thrown in any new environment, be it professionally or socially, we find ourselves looking to make those one or two connections for support. Enter the concept of social support system—a network of people who can be friends, family, and peers whom we can trust and turn to for emotional support and guidance.
No Man is an Island
According to research, people with wide social support networks have stronger mental resilience and better well-being. Here are some tangible benefits of building a solid social support system:
- Emotional fortress: In our hectic lives, stress comes from all around. The support of friends and loved ones can serve as a powerful stress antidote. Venting our thoughts and spending quality time with people who hold significance to us can be therapeutic, helping us reduce anxiety and improve our mood. They may even recognise our stress cues even before we do.
- Sense of belonging: Depending on the stage of our life or situation, we turn to different people we know for support. Simply having the reassurance that there is always someone in our inner circle who can offer the right advice and support provides a comforting sense of security.
- New perspectives: In stressful times and unexpected situations, we may experience tunnel vision and feel like we are stuck in a rut. That’s where our support system can come in to provide new perspectives and help us pivot to different and better outcomes.
The Building Blocks of Social Support Systems
Amidst juggling hectic schoolwork, non-elective programmes, and extra-curriculum activities, university life can be both fun and stressful. Unsurprisingly, we have all been instinctively building our social support systems. Here are five tips on how to be more methodical in your endeavours.
- Look inwards: Is my current support network adequate? Having self-awareness of the reasons why your social support system may be inadequate can help you come up with targeted strategies on how to build yours. For example, if you are socially anxious with large groups, try connecting with one person instead in a group setting.
- Set specific and realistic goals: Instead of “I need to talk to more people”, go with “I will talk to one new person each week”. Being specific gives you a better idea of how much progress you are making toward your goals and a better chance of success.
- Meet new people: There are many ways to expand your social network in school. Step out of your comfort zone: Join a club to find people with common interests, participate in organised activities or help plan one, approach someone alone at a gathering, or work with a different project group every time.
- Be vulnerable: Do not be afraid to ask for support when needed. Be open to talking about your feelings and seeking advice from trustworthy sources. Sometimes help and solutions come from the most unlikely source when we are receptive.
- Maintain existing relationships: Support system works both ways. As much as you need support in tough times, your friends need you too. It is therefore important to invest your time and effort in building and maintaining relationships with the ones who matter by being present. And rather than dishing out advice, sometimes an empathetic ear is all we need to provide.
The Mileage of Your University Network
There is no better time to start building your social support system than in school. The strongest relationships are built over time and often through shared experiences. From faculty staff to peers, seniors, and professional connections through internships, your university network can prove invaluable in both your personal growth and future career.
There is some wisdom in the saying: “It is who you know that brings success in getting a job.” According to research, 85% of people land a job through personal or professional connections. So, do not underestimate the relationships you forge in school, as they can go a long way!
Cultivating and maintaining a social support system will benefit you throughout life. Support networks offer more than a sense of community and belonging; they can also help you achieve personal and professional success. So start building yours today!