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.
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").
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:
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!
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:
What are your ideas?!
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!
Liked by Debbra Williams, Alumna Mentor