How to be More Supportive to the People Closest to You

Posted on August 30, 2017

During a difficult period, the people whom you are close to will need your support. Social support is well-known to be an important and one of the most effective ways to deal with stress. People who feel that they are supported are most likely to be happiest. A new research conducted with parents of children with autism reveals how you can be a more supportive person to your loved ones and close friends.

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), especially aging parents whose children are now adults, face many challenges daily. According to new research, these parents benefit greatly from the social support of their closed ones. Christine Marsack of Eastern Michigan University and Preethy Samuel Of Wayne State University worked together to investigate how social support affects the perceived burden and quality of life in aging caregivers of adult children with ASD.

The research was based on the cognitive model of stress and coping. This model proposes that an event which is appraised as stressful leads to a negative impact on the person. For parents of children with ASD, they first need to cope with receiving the diagnosis. Then accepting it and looking for support services. The researchers investigated whether formal or informal social support is better at reducing stress. The research was conducted on 320 parents aged 50 or older. Most were aged under 70. Participants completed online surveys that enquired about psychological quality of life, perceived burden of caregiving, contact with formal support agencies and perceived degree of informal social support.

While formal support, like psychiatric, financial and adult day care, was found to be heavily used, it was insufficient to reduce the perceived burden on mental health outcomes. Informal support, as shown in answers to a six-item questionnaire, was the major factor in reducing the perceived stress. The questionnaire was adapted from the Enhancing Recovery in Coronary Heart Disease (ENRICHD) Social Support Index (ESSI). The responses to the questionnaire show how we can support our closed ones who are going through a difficult period.

1) Be available to listen. This does not mean you need to provide help even if you were not asked. Simply be a person they can talk to about their problems. Allow the person to feel that you will listen to them in a non-judgmental, uncritical manner.

2) Provide advice when needed. Providing advice can be very supportive, however, not when it is unsolicited. Be prepared to give advice when asked and it will be better received.

3) Show love and affection. Sometimes, the individual just needs to know that someone is caring about them. Showing love and affection is best done through face-to-face interaction, but it can also be done through online methods.

4) Help out with daily chores occasionally. Help can be provided through doing logistics or even just running errands or helping out around the house.

5) Support the individual during the process. The person you are helping may need to go through a series of steps to solve the problem. Being patient and guiding the person through making plans or a decision can help provide a more balanced perspective than if he or she were to go through it alone.

6) Be someone that the person can trust. The ESSI asks about being physically present. However, if this is not possible, being trustworthy is important. They may wish to talk about their frustrations, sometimes even the negative feelings towards their spouse. Being uncertain or worrying that the person they are confiding in may break their trust only adds to their stress.

It may seem that participating in established support networks or signing up for financial or emergency assistance is enough to reduce the individual’s perceived stress. However, the Marsack and Samuel's study shows that informal support through friendship and trust creates a bigger difference.

Category(s):Caregiver Issues / Stress

Source material from Psychology Today

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