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Social support under COVID-19

During this time of uncertainty many of us are experiencing higher levels of stress which can be both physically and mentally draining. The effects of social support have been researched since the 1970s in both humans and nonhumans. For example, elephants have been shown to be able to detect other elephant’s feelings of stress and show support but trunk touch (Plotnik & de Waal, 2014).

Those individuals who receive/perceive higher levels of social support demonstrated increased adherence to physical activity, success rates of quitting smoking and tackling obesity. It has further been associated with better survival rates following infectious diseases such as HIV (Lee & Rotheram-Borus, 2001) and long-term illnesses such as breast cancer (Falagas et al., 2007).


If we are talking about illnesses, studies have shown that increased sociability and social support was associated with greater resistance to developing common cold (Cohen, Doyle, Turner, Alper, & Skoner, 2003).

Now I am not a researcher or an expert in social support, I’m also not suggesting that social support is the answer to the current problems. I am however highlighting the importance of it.


Let’s see the types of social support and how we can help others:


  1. Emotional support: expressions of care, love and empathy. Listening and validating feelings.

  2. Informational support: sharing advice, experiences, suggestions, guidance and information. This could also include signposting to experts who may be able to offer professional advice.

  3. Tangible support: offering material and/or financial resources such as money, gifts, doing somebody’s food shop, babysitting.

  4. Belonging/companionship support: including individuals in a group, activities and making them feel like they belong somewhere. Having group calls in isolation.


I encourage everyone to show some support to one another to tackle feelings and experiences of stress, isolation, amongst many others. This really could be the difference in making someone’s day during these uncertain and unprecedented times.


References:

Cohen, S., Doyle, W., Turner, R., Alper, C., & Skoner, D. (2003). Sociability and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Psychological Science14(5), 389-395. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.01452


Falagas, M., Zarkadoulia, E., Ioannidou, E., Peppas, G., Christodoulou, C., & Rafailidis, P. (2007). The effect of psychosocial factors on breast cancer outcome: a systematic review. Breast Cancer Research9(4). doi: 10.1186/bcr1744


Lee, M., & Rotheram-Borus, M. (2001). Challenges Associated With Increased Survival Among Parents Living With HIV. American Journal Of Public Health91(8), 1303-1309. doi: 10.2105/ajph.91.8.1303


Plotnik, J., & de Waal, F. (2014). Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) reassure others in distress. Peerj2, e278. doi: 10.7717/peerj.278