The Number One Gift To Give And Receive: Social Support

A gentle snow glistens in the streetlamps as I pull into the parking log. Twinkling lights frame the storefront on this beautiful, crisp winter evening. Christina Perri croons from my Christmas playlist, “Who really needs a gift, when love is meant to give?…Something ‘bout December…”

But right now December just feels stressful. I’ve only got half an hour before I need to head home and prep dinner, dirty laundry awaits me there, and I’m rushing to find the perfect stocking stuffers.

As soon as I open the car door I see my dear friend two spots away, with head in hands. I tap on her window with concern etched on my face, and she motions for me to come sit in the passenger seat. Heartbroken from the news of her father’s death, she desperately needs a listening ear. We sit and talk and cry and hug.

By the time I drive toward home I’ve forgotten about the hunt for stocking stuffers. My heart is full of gratitude and love. Christmas peace has been restored to my soul.

Recent research confirms that social support benefits the body and brain in profoundly positive ways. The Journal of American Medical Association published an article in Neurology which examined the connection between social support and cognitive function. Researchers evaluated data from over 2000 older adults and concluded “The results of this cross-sectional cohort study suggest that social support in the form of supportive listening is associated with greater cognitive resilience.”

A similar article published in the Science Direct journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity investigated the impact of “perceived social-support giving” on blood levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), an inflammation marker in the body. This study included 1054 middle-aged adults who completed questionnaires regarding social support, and provided blood samples for IL-6 measurement. “Indicators of positive social relationships were associated with lower IL-6 among individuals [in the study.]”

In other words, giving and receiving social support can improve cognitive resilience and decrease systemic inflammation. It turns out Christina Perri’s poignant chorus about December was right after all…the gift we most need this holiday season is loving connection.

MBJ

Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

JAMA Network, Neurology

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2783042

Brain, Behavior, and Immunity https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2021.11.002