Social support is something many of us neglect when we’re facing difficulties. We want to isolate, don’t reach out for help, or just slowly stop interacting with others. There are reasons that many cancer treatment programs incorporate support groups, Christian rehab centers incorporate Celebrate Recovery (Christian recovery) meetings, and mental health clinics encourage group therapy and exercises. It works. Although there are times that we need medicine, doctors, and professionals, we can always supplement our healing through difficulties by seeking out social engagement.
The Benefits of Social Support
Multiple studies have found that social support can help improve mental health. A 1996 analysis of studies done over the previous
twenty years found significant data to suggest social support can help improve mental health. A 2011 study found that social relationships can effect our health for better or for worse in many different aspects, including mental health, health behavior, and mortality risk.
Here are a few benefits of social support in your health and in facing adversities in your life:
- Build self-esteem and self-worth through deep and caring connections with other people in your life
- Reduce anxiety and stress, as found by multiple studies
- Help alleviate symptoms of depression
- Increased ability to cope with stress
- Reduce fatigue and sleepiness during our days
- Generally healthier psychological wellbeing
- Better judgement and impulse control
Why We Isolate
You may have had the experience of isolating when things are rough. Whether you’ve dealt with clinical depression, faced times of grief, or struggled with everyday stress, you may have found yourself retreating into yourself. This can happen for a number of reasons, and it’s good to know why this happens so we don’t beat ourselves up too harshly.
From a biological perspective, we are especially vulnerable during times when we are struggling. Our minds and bodies know this, and we’ve evolved as humans to care for our lives. As such, the mind and body may respond to difficulties and stress by wanting to isolate and be alone so we are not as vulnerable to danger. This is perfectly natural, and we don’t need to blame ourselves for this. Rather, we can look at the experience with some care and compassion, as we don’t really have a say in how our biology works all the time!
Socially, we are taught as a society to be happy and show our best face. Social media is a major culprit here. Not that all social media interaction is bad, but we are often seeing the good things happening in peoples’ lives. When we look at magazines, watch TV, or go online, we are being shown happy and healthy people often. It’s a subtle message that can make us feel like we “should” be happy. Like that is the correct way to be. Because of this, we may feel embarrassed or even ashamed when we are struggling, and not want to show our faces.
Mentally, we may simply not have the energy to engage socially when we are facing difficulties. Stress and pain sucks up our energy and can leave us feeling tired and defeated. It takes mental power to deal with anxiety, stress, worry, grief, etc. After a day of facing adversity, we often don’t have the mental energy left to get up and interact with others. If we do, we often don’t want to talk about what’s going on or show up with deep honesty.
Ways to Build a Support Network
Whether you’re in a moment of pain or you know that difficulties are a part of life, it can be incredibly helpful to have people toward whom you can turn when things get tough. Everyone is different. Some people like having one best friend with whom they are super close, while others prefer to have a larger group of friends to talk to and share with. Try to be careful not to fall into the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” trap by thinking that your support group should look any specific way. Investigate for yourself what works and what is beneficial.
You may start by looking at your closest relationships you currently have. Maybe you have family, a significant other, or a close friend who you are extremely close with. Make an effort to cultivate this relationship. Part of being in a social support network is showing up for others and building trust. If you haven’t spoken with someone in a while, give them a call or go visit. Connect with the person as regularly as you’re able in order to keep the relationship fresh, personal, and supportive.
You can also reach out to build new relationships. If applicable, find a support group. If you’re recovering from addiction or process addictions, there are many support groups such as twelve-step, Refuge Recovery, and secular groups. There are support groups out there for almost everything. If you struggle with a chronic illness, physical or mental in nature, you can likely find a group. You can also make new friends at places like Meetup.com, in person at yoga studios or meditation groups, or your everyday life. Put yourself out there, especially when you’re feeling well.
If you need support badly and don’t know who to turn toward, know that there are options. There are hotlines you can call, places on Reddit where you can post for support, mobile apps to chat about difficulties, and people you can turn to. We all want to stay safe when we’re struggling, but sometimes we make things worse in our heads than they end up being. Keep yourself safe, but also put yourself out there and reach out to somebody for help. We’re often surprised at how well we are received and supported.