Solitude to Strength: What is Social Support and How to Get Some

“Social support” - it's a term that's thrown around and we hear that having it is a good thing, especially during stressful times (like during an injury).

But it’s a bit vague and missing the “so what?” We describe why you should care and provide a much-needed breakdown of what social support actually is so that you can use this powerful tool to your advantage.

Social Support Matters and You Need Some

While the impacts of social support may seem abstract (because social support is intangible and measuring its effects can seem difficult), researchers have been studying its effects for decades1 (and continuing to do so). In the context of injury recovery, studies repeatedly find having social support is linked to positive outcomes for your mind and body – such as less anxiety2, less perceived pain3,  faster wound healing4, lower doses of narcotics5, and increased adherence to treatment protocol6.

The Many Shapes and Sizes of Social Support

Social support goes by many names, such as relationships, networks, connections, and resources. Social support can be perceived (the belief that social support will be available when needed) or received (the actual act of benefiting from supportive resources).7 And it can be broken down in different ways. Three common types of social support are emotional, informational, and tangible.

Embrace the Power of Many Helping Hands

People vary in the type and amount of support they can offer. Expecting too much or relying too heavily on a single individual creates unreasonable demands and can eventually be detrimental to the people providing and receiving support. Instead, you should deliberately build a network with many sources of assistance. Friends, family, colleagues, and support groups each bring their unique strengths, perspectives, and availabilities, which ultimately creates a healthier and more robust system. For example, a person you met online who has had your same injury will likely validate your feelings and provide advice; but this person is unlikely to help with your household chores, which may be covered by your spouse or roommate. One form of support is not necessarily better than another. Take (and be thankful for) what is given, without comparison and judgment to what others provide.

The “How to” of Social Support

Receiving social support when you need it requires deliberate effort. Below are a few approaches. Some you can implement now (communicate and communities) whereas others take time to develop (relationships).

  • Communicate Your Needs: Think about and clearly express your feelings, concerns, or challenges. Most people truly want to help but may not know what you need. Just tell them.  
  • Seek Out Support Communities: Find local or online support groups related to your specific situation. Joining and participating in these communities can provide valuable understanding, empathy, and shared experiences.
  • Build and Maintain Relationships: Take the time to create and nurture meaningful relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and community members. In order to “get” you must “give” and this does not happen overnight.



1 Stevan E. Hobfoll, “Social and Psychological Resource and Adaptation” Review of General Psychology, 2002.

2 Xiu Ling Florence Kok et al. “Social Support and Pre-Operative Anxiety in Patients Undergoing Elective Surgical Procedures: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Health Psychology, 2023.

3 Allison R. Mitchinson et al., “Social Connectedness and Patient Recovery After Major Operations,” Journal of American College of Surgeons, 2008.

4 Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser et al., “Psychological Influences on Surgical Recovery: Perspectives from Psychoneuroimmunology,” American Psychologist, 1998.

5 Heinz Walter Krohne and Kerstin E. Slangen, “Influence of Social Support on Adaptation to Surgery,” Health Psychology, 2005.; James A. Kulik, Heike I. M. Mahler, and Philip J. Moore, “Social Comparison and Affiliation Under Threat: Effects on Recovery From Major Surgery,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1996.

6 M. Robin DiMatteo, “Social Support and Patient Adherence to Medical Treatment: A Meta-Analysis,” Health Psychology, 2004.

7 Bert N. Uchino, "Understanding the Links Between Social Support and Physical Health: A Life-Span Perspective with Emphasis on the Separability of Perceived and Received Support," Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2009.

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