There are four different kinds of social support: i) emotional support, ii) instrumental (or practical) support, iii) informational support, and iv) appraisal.  This week’s blog will focus on an exercise you can use to improve your level of social support.  This exercise is particularly useful to increase practical support and, with some practice, can also be applied to other forms of support. It can be helpful for anyone, but especially for those struggling to manage their health.

1)      Write down what kind of support you need most – along with a list of people in your social network who could provide it

2)      Use this list as a platform for creating a dialogue with people in your social network about your health issues, your barriers to better health, and ways in which that person helps (or hinders) you in reaching your health goals

Tips on how to make the most of this exercise:

a)      Be specific: When you are making your list, concentrate on practical/instrumental support because then your focus will be on concrete forms of help (such as “Can you please help with the grocery shopping this week?”) rather than abstract concepts (like “I need to feel more supported”).  Try to think of specific examples or ways that you need help because these are not only easier for people to understand, but it is also clearer whether these items are accomplished or not.

b)      Keep it positive and focused on you:  If you do decide to talk with someone close to you about your needs and/or frustrations, be sure to begin with words of encouragement – for example, what kind of support has this person given you in the past? How important or helpful was that support for you?  Nobody wants to hear a list of things they’ve done wrong.  To avoid a blaming tone, emphasize YOUR needs and desires rather than what the other person has or has not done.

c)       Prioritize:  It’s ok if your list of wants or needs is long, but to begin pick one or two that matter most to you and focus only on those (at first).  Keep your list and refer back to it in a month or two, especially if your first (and most important) requests have been met.

d)      Follow up: Give a gentle reminder every once in a while to the person you’re requesting support from if there hasn’t been any progress since your initial conversation.  If there has been progress, make sure that you let that person know that you’ve noticed their efforts and that it means a lot to you.

e)      Be patient:  Change is hard and it takes time and effort.  If the person in your social network cares about you, they truly do want to help you – but they may need help and/or encouragement and/or time to do so.  Be prepared to listen to their needs and thoughts about your relationship as well, after all relationships are a two-way street.

A useful resource for making the most of relationships can be found here