DF Archive

Building Social Support – It’s Good For Your Health!

People today often struggle to keep up with the demands of daily life. In fact, a recent national survey finds that one in three people in America are living with extreme stress.

 

Stress can come from a heavy workload, daily traffic jams, dealing with a health problem or injury, taking care of someone who’s ill, financial worries, relationship troubles, parenting, or major life transitions like moving or starting a family. Whatever the source, perhaps you cannot change the things that cause stress but you can improve how you deal with stress. Social support can help you get through stressful times by providing a sense of belonging, self-worth and security.

Here are some tips to help you create, keep and strengthen vital connections in your life.

People today often struggle to keep up with the demands of daily life. In fact, a recent national survey finds that one in three people in America are living with extreme stress.

Stress can come from a heavy workload, daily traffic jams, dealing with a health problem or injury, taking care of someone who’s ill, financial worries, relationship troubles, parenting, or major life transitions like moving or starting a family. Whatever the source, perhaps you cannot change the things that cause stress but you can improve how you deal with stress. Social support can help you get through stressful times by providing a sense of belonging, self-worth and security.

Here are some tips to help you create, keep and strengthen vital connections in your life.

Connect to Family and Friends

Do you need to be more connected to others? As with many goals, you’ll be more successful at building strong connections if you create a workable plan.

  • Make a short list of friends and family members who are supportive and positive. Also include a list of people you feel the need to stay in touch with regularly such as parents, close friend or adult child who lives far away, or an aging relative who lives alone.
  • Make a commitment to yourself to call, email or get together with them on a schedule that’s reasonable for you. Try to reach out to make at least one emotional connection a day, but plan realistically.
  • Share what’s on your mind honestly and openly. Talk about your concerns in a straight-forward way, but try to keep it constructive. Try to be direct about what you need – for example a sympathetic ear, help solving a problem, a fresh perspective, new ideas or a good laugh. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
  • When you talk, also listen. Check on someone else’s day. Listening to other people’s concerns can often shed a new light on your own challenges. Offer help when you can. Ask what other people think about your situation, and show them you value their opinion – listen and respond.
  • Make social plans. Create opportunities to strengthen your relationships with fun things that both parties enjoy. Looking forward to special activities boosts our spirits, gives us energy and makes us more productive.

You may find that among people you hardly know, one or more can become trusted friends you can rely on—and support—in good times and bad. Even if you feel that you’re so busy you don’t have time to keep up with family and friends you already have, it doesn’t take much time to make new friends. If you’re shy and hesitant about meeting new people, just a few questions can get a conversation going. Think about neighbors you pass regularly, co-workers, people in your exercise class, a cousin you’ve lost touch with, or those who volunteer in the same organizations you do. If you don’t already have people you can talk with regularly about what’s on your mind, it’s worth the effort to build connections for your emotional health.

Connect To Your Community

A great way to feel emotionally strong and resilient in times of stress is to feel connected to a broad community. Think about the things you like to do. You can expand your social network by looking into community organizations that bring people together who share the same interests. For instance, many communities have local biking, hiking or walking groups. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do like learning a new language? Take a class, or join a local group. You also may find the support you need through local support groups for a specific issue like parenting, dealing with a health problem, or caring for a loved one who’s ill. Or consider volunteering with a community organization that helps fill a need. Here are some tips to make sure your volunteer experience works for you – and does not become an additional source of stress:

  • Get the right match. Think about what kind of work you like to do, based on your interests, skills and availability. Do you like to read, write, build things, repair things, or sort and organize? Do you have a special field of knowledge that you could teach to struggling students as a tutor or coach? Are you especially concerned about homelessness or pollution? Do you love to garden or work in an office? Do you speak another language? Do you need to be at home, and bring your volunteer work home with you? Whatever your situation and your interests, there is probably a volunteer opportunity to make a great contribution in your community. Volunteering will help you build strong connections with others—a proven way to protect your mental health.
  • Make it count. You want your volunteer time to make a difference, so ask questions to make sure the organization uses volunteers efficiently and productively. Ask what volunteers do, where and when they do it, and whether an employee is available with information and guidance when needed.
  • Find a connection. To find a volunteer position that’s right for you, contact your volunteer center. Look in the Yellow Pages under “Volunteer Clearinghouse” or “Volunteer Center,” or contact your city or county information line to ask for a referral to a volunteer coordinator service in your area.

Connect To Professional Help

With today’s hectic pace, it’s normal to feel some stress. But having chronic stress can lead to a number of problems:

  • Headaches, feelings of despair, lack of energy, sadness, nervousness, anger, irritability
  • Increased or decreased eating
  • Trouble concentrating, memory problems, trouble sleeping
  • Mental health problems, such as panic attacks, anxiety disorders and depression
  • A lowered ability to fight or recover from illness
  • Acne and other skin problems
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Faster heartbeat and rise in blood pressure; increased risk of high cholesterol and heart attack
  • Nausea, stomach pain, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation
  • For women, irregular or more painful periods and reduced sexual desire
  • For men, impotence, lower sperm production, reduced sexual desire

Watch out for these changes in your body if you’ve been under stress for a long time.

If you feel overwhelmed, unable to cope and feel as though your stress is affecting how you function every day, it could be something more, like depression or anxiety. Don’t let it go unchecked. Contact your health care provider for help.

For help finding treatment, support groups, medication information, help paying for your medications, your local Mental Health America affiliate, and other mental health-related services in your community, please click here to access our Frequently Asked Questions and Answers. If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24 hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.

1American Psychological Association (APA) Stress Survey, 2007. Available at http://www.apa.org/releases/stressproblem.html.

This publication is made possible through a grant from Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Page last updated: 05/09/2008

Mental Health America
2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311
Phone (703) 684-7722
Fax (703) 684-5968
Toll free (800) 969-6642
TTY Line 800/433-5959

Leave a Reply