Day 8: Creating your Resiliency Roadmap

May 15, 2020 | Dona Locke | @DrDonaLocke | Comments (1)

Road to Resilience

Happy Friday! This is the last topic in our resiliency roadmap series. I'm grateful for all the positive feedback we've gotten along the way and for all the comments and suggestions you all have made about each topic. I want to encourage our new readers to take a look at our Introduction to the series and then work your way through the other pieces of the roadmap (recognizing your personal signs of stress, recognizing situational factors that cause stress, identifying positive coping techniques you already use, learning diaphragmatic breathing, learning other formal relaxation techniques, cultivating helpful and healthy thinking patterns, and giving attention to positive emotions) before coming back to this topic. Today is our final topic-social support.

We all need support

In this session, I want to remind us all that we do not have to get through anything alone. The rest of the roadmap series until now is, admittedly, very focused on building YOUR toolbox. This is important because the more you believe you have the tools to handle challenges, the more you will be able to adapt to or bounce back from those challenges. But, that doesn't mean we always MUST go it alone. Sometimes the tool we need is leaning on others.

The relationship between social support and health has been studied in many populations (e.g., patients with cancer, weight loss, maternal health, caregivers) and in many cultures (e.g., American, Turkish. For example, this meta-analysis found that higher perceived social support was related to lower subjective burden in caregivers of adults or older adults. And this meta-analysis found a positive relationship between social support and mental health.

You are probably thinking, this is obvious, what's the catch?  The catch is that many of us neglect our social support networks or tell ourselves we "shouldn't" reach out to them in times of challenge (take a look back at our Day 6 topic on unhelpful vs. helpful thinking for a reminder of the dangers of "should").

What does social support mean to you?

First, who makes up your social support?  Taking a step back a moment, this question is important. For some of us, having a robust network of friends and family with whom we communicate often. For others of us, it is a smaller network you may talk to less often, but you know you can always rely on one another when needed. . For some, our faith community is an important part of that support network. Some of us may be in formal support groups, on-line discussion groups like Mayo Clinic Connect, or other social groups like a men's group, quilting circle, book club, etc. So, what does social support mean to you? Who and what groups do you feel you can really rely on in times of challenge (and who do you support when they are challenged)?

The other part of social support beyond the who is the what. Social support can be emotional comfort, encouragement, services to one another (like helping get things done or giving a ride), problem-solving support or advice, or just comfortable companionship. Just like the who, the what can vary based on individual preferences and needs of the situation. It is important to recognize that the same whos may not do the same whats for you, but that you need a mix of both. Knowing what whos do what whats (and when) for you specifically is important. (Is it just me or did that end up sounding like Dr. Seuss wrote it? I'm ok with that, he was amazing!).

So, are you someone who has a smaller network and really appreciates having someone in that network who will let you express those strong emotions and provide comfort? Are you someone who appreciates a large network of family, friends, co-workers, etc who are willing to pitch in with "service" support when needed? Or, you may be a mixture of all of this (many of us are). I encourage you to spend a moment answering these two questions:

  1. WHO is my social support network? Name names here. My husband, my dad, my 2 sisters, my brother-in-law, my friend Kam, My friend Kim, My co-workers and friends Melanie and Anni, etc. What about you?
  2. WHAT types of supports do you find most helpful? This can really range for me depending on the situation. My husband really provides all the versions of support at times, thankfully, but I find that with my family, I usually appreciate services to one another (i.e., physical help getting things done) and problem-solving most. My friends Melanie and Anni are part of my network who I know I can process my strong emotions. My friend Kam has also provided help getting things done and companionship.

How do you maintain those connections?

Before COVID and social distancing (physical distancing really) you probably had a routine that allowed you to maintain those connections. You went to services in whatever faith is important to you, you attended your support group, you got together for dinners, lunches, brunches, etc. with those important to you. Now, most of that has been on pause. So, how do we maintain those connections in the time of this physical distancing? In our presentations to the staff at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, we've heard lots of innovative suggestions--group fitness challenges, group text messages, FaceTime/Duo calls, Zoom happy hours, Virtual book clubs, trading photographs each day, sending around jokes for a laugh, getting back to being pen pals through letters and cards, etc.  I'd love to hear the ways you are doing this!

How do you cultivate supports?

All of the above assumes you feel you have all the social supports you need, which I hope is true for all of you. However, the reality is that some of us felt like we didn't have the social support we needed even before COVID changed our lives. So, if you need to start cultivating some support networks, I hope this series gives you the opportunity to reflect on that and get started. I'll offer a few recommendations here, but this is where I also welcome comments from you!  What would you, our readers, say to one another in terms of ideas for cultivating that support network? Here are mine:

  1. Start with family. Family support is not an option for all of us, but sometimes we THINK it isn't because of distance. Is this a time to intentionally create some family chats or Facetime/Duo or Zoom calls?
  2.  What do you like?  Is there a community for you related to something you like?  For example, getting involved in a faith activity, volunteering, joining a book club, etc.?  The challenge here is often identifying the unhelpful thinking that may be stopping you from joining these activities: "I probably won't like anyone there." "They probably won't like me." And, many of these activities are on pause or moving to a virtual format at this time. Nevertheless, I hope you'll look around for opportunities.
  3.  Consider joining a Mayo Clinic Connect discussion group. There are groups here on just about every topic you can think of, but there is also this "Just Want to Talk" group where you can start a discussion about just about anything!  Just looking right now, and I see conversations about gardening, distancing at home, gratitude, recipes, and humor as a coping tool. And that is just a small drop in the bucket of the conversations going there.
  4. Consider the people you already know. Are there people in your life who maybe ARE supports to you, but you didn't necessarily think of them that way?  Or, are they individuals who really could become those supports with just a little effort?  For example, do you have neighbors that you talk to regularly that could really become that support circle?  Co-workers? Faith-community partners?  For me, I had an "ah-ha" moment when I realized that the parents of my kids' friends were also people I liked and were my friends. This was really a mental shift on my part that allowed me to realize these parents are also my supports. Do you have an existing resource like that around you?

What are your ideas?!

Wrap up Tuesday

On Tuesday, I'll post one more entry on this topic, bringing us around again to the full roadmap.  I'm hoping you've made some notes for yourself along the way, and Tuesday we'll be able to put them all together. I can't wait to hear what you've put together!

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) blog.

I'm just playing catch up here. Maintaining social connections can be a real challenge with most of us just now even beginning to ease up on "stay at home" orders. I'm not ready yet to go back to physical get-togethers and meetings, but I'm trying to stay connected with Book Club and some of my other meetings by Zoom. Also, sometimes with our children we are doing Video chats.

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