When you think of a healthy support system, you might imagine yourself as a character in Friends or How I Met Your Mother. You and your five best buddies, hanging out at your favorite coffee house or bar, ranting about your day. That’s a support team — right?
Yes, friendships are an important element of a strong support system. But the roots must go deeper, touching both your personal and professional lives and providing a wide range of outlets if one element isn’t working. For example, maybe you need emotional support because your friends are at odds — having multiple resources helps ease your stress.
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“A strong support system is important for individuals to have an outlet or safe space to process emotions, struggles, and thoughts. It’s important to remember that a good and solid support system network comprises of individuals important in the person’s life but also one where the relationship is reciprocal. There is no tally system or give or take in a supportive relationship. It’s freely given and freely accepted.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Science says a strong support system is essential, and can even help improve health outcomes. If you are struggling to find a healthy support system, here are 5 ways to beef it up.
Know what you want from a support system
First, take time to consider what, exactly, you want from a support team. Do you need a group of friends that help you unwind and listen to your concerns? Or are you upgrading your professional life? In that case, you may look toward coworkers or people who work in your industry.
Here’s an important caveat: While it’s important to focus on the kind of support you want, everybody deserves a broad range of support in every available flavor. After all, your current needs and mental health may be different than six months from now. Think of yourself like a tent: if you only stake in one leg, you might just blow away in the wind. Secure all of your tent poles and you’ll be able to weather any storm.
Yes, you may prioritize one type of support, whether that be professional, deep friendships, or a wide network of acquaintances. But don’t let the others lag behind. You never know when they may be needed.
“The support system one builds is a constant work in progress. Some individuals in our support system may not longer be available or have grown out of the role the two of individuals expected from one another. That’s okay, as overtime people change and move on. So to does our support system, so make the changes when it’s necessary.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Build your bonds with existing family and friends
Sometimes, the best support system is right beneath your nose. Your family and friends know you well, making them the perfect cheerleader. Feeling gloomy? What’s better than calling a friend or family member?
But not all of us have done a superb job of staying in touch through the years. Perhaps you met your dearest friends in college — but only see them once in a blue moon. Maybe a family member lives a few states away, and you’ve been lackadaisical about calling and visiting. (Sorry, Mom!)
The first step in building a good support system? Start reaching out. These friendships already exist, and simply need a little strengthening! If your friends and family are located in other cities, perhaps phone calls, video chats, or (if you can afford it) visits are in order. With friends in the same city, consider coffee or brewery dates or a trip to the zoo.
Yes, revitalizing these friendships requires vulnerability. But all support networks require opening up — and that may make you uncomfortable. If you’re scared to reach out, consider talking to a therapist about your concerns. There are many benefits of therapy to look into.
Embrace your interests
If your friends and family are far-flung, you may seek a support system located a little closer. That’s a tough challenge — but it’s one you can handle.
You have two goals: First, making friends, so you have people to confide in during times of need and loneliness. But you’re also hunting for an outlet that drags you out of the house when you’d rather sulk.
What activities do you adore? Are you a fervent cross-stitcher or a soccer fanatic? Connect with like-minded souls in your community. Join a knitting circle, or sign up for an intramural team. And don’t get frustrated when you’re not flooded with new friends. All that nervousness you feel? Everyone else feels it, too. Consistent, regular interaction builds a strong basis for friendship.
Even if you don’t meet your new best pal, you can still enjoy the benefits of a stress-relieving outlet — an underrated part of your personal support system.
Expand your professional connections
If you’re more career-minded, a strong professional support network is essential. Yes, you can unload on your close friends when you’re stressed about work or uncertain about the next step in your career — but the level of support they can offer is minimal unless they’re in the same field.
To develop this network, look to build relationships inside and outside your company. Your coworkers are valuable day-to-day resources, but you’ll be in a tricky spot if you’re job-hunting. You need additional resources to support your holistic career needs. Consider professional meetups, networking events and happy hours.
Finding people with the same professional goals is essential to advancing your career. And who else will you rant to about your field’s unique challenges?
Create your own personal support area
Support networks often rely on other people, but building our own personal support structure is essential, too. How do you unwind after a hard day? How do you calm yourself when you’re feeling down? It’s important to know how to support yourself as well.
Prioritize self-care. This looks different for every person: perhaps you set up a meditation nook, or maybe you set aside time each morning for a quick run.
Most importantly, self-care means reaching out to a therapist when you need one. During times of serious trouble, a licensed professional can guide you through the muck — and help uncover weaknesses in your interpersonal support systems.
A good support system of friends, family, and coworkers isn’t just there during the good times to trigger the laugh track in the sitcom of your life — they’re the safety net when times get tough. These are the people who will pull you up. It’s time to invest in them so that they’ll be there for you!