Building a Strong Support Network
You’ve just hung up the phone. The caller told you, kindly but firmly, that you didn’t get the job. This is the third rejection you’ve had in as many weeks. You’re running out of money, out of time. You’ve never felt so down. What do you do?
All through life we face stressful, difficult times. In these times events are disappointing, even heartbreaking. It’s daunting to face those tough times. But we don’t have to face them alone if we have a strong support system.
What Is a Support System and Why Do You Need One?
Your support system is the informal network of people you rely on: family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, fellow parishioners, fellow students. These are people you trust for practical and emotional help. This is your community.
Studies have shown that people with strong support systems tend to live longer. They also tend to have better health, higher self-esteem, are better able to cope with stress and feel more in control of their lives.
We are social animals. Communities evolved so that people could share resources and survive.
Today, we live more isolated lives than people did in the past. Many of us don’t know our neighbors. In our competitive work world, we may not trust our coworkers. Our friends may be busy, or unavailable. We may feel uncomfortable sharing some problems with family members.
But sometimes we need someone to talk to, someone to listen. How can you build the kind of support system you need?
Family and Friends
It may be that your friends, loved ones, and family are a good source of support. If you’re not sure, ask yourself some questions.
- Do you want to talk to someone not involved in your situation?
- Will talking to family or friends make you feel better or more upset?
- Can family and friends help you, or help you find what you need?
- Do your family and friends share your values?
- Do they have healthy boundaries? Will they try to “fix” things—or you?
- Do family and friends have time in their lives for you?
When Family and Friends Aren’t Enough
Sometimes talking with loved ones isn’t the best course. Even if they are understanding, you might find that sharing what you’re troubled about with them is just too difficult.
Your best choice may be to find a therapist experienced in the kind of help you need.
Talking with your family doctor can be a good first step. Your General Practitioner (G.P.) can give you tips for good mental health, advise you about medication, and refer you to appropriate therapists or psychological services.
Your spiritual advisor may also be a good source for listening and for referral suggestions.
The same considerations apply when you’re looking for professional help. Choose someone you can trust. You need to feel comfortable and respected.
Support group members provide each other with nonprofessional help for a specific problem they share. They are often focused on topics like family issues, divorce, depression and anxiety, or grief.
A small group at your church, such as a Bible study group or grief support group may be helpful.
Support groups are also available in the larger community. Ask for referrals from trustworthy sources, like your doctor, your pastor, or a trusted friend.
A good place to for information about support groups is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ healthfinder directory. Under “Support Groups” you’ll find information on how to find a local support group as well as links with agencies and organizations that provide group help for various medical and psychological problems.
Online Support Groups
You can also join an online support group. Your research should check group websites for recent activity. Is the group active? Do the posts sound positive?
Check for these clues to a good online group:
- The group seems stable
- Member attitudes are positive and supportive.
- Guidelines and rules are reasonable
- Technical features of the site are easy to use
- Discussion opportunities appeal to you
Less formally, joining others who share your interests can expand your support community and lead to new friendships.
Consider a meetup.com group on a topic or activity that interests you. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Take a class. Join a sports team. Join or start a book club. Get active in your church or religious community. Invite a neighbor or coworker over for a meal.
Building Your Support System
In times of need, we look to our support system for help. Your community of support needs to be in place before you need it. Begin now to nurture the relationships you already have with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and people who share your interests.
Make new friends and keep the old. You’ll have better health, a longer life, and greater well-being. Friends and loved ones can increase your resilience to face life’s setbacks and make good times even better.