Building a Social Support Network
Establishing healthy social supports is an important component of overall wellness because it enables you to manage stress more effectively. Social supports provide physical and emotional comfort and allow you to connect with a community, which offers a sense of being cared for and valued. Social supports can take many forms—emotional, practical, informational, and intellectual—and vary from person to person. There will be people in your life you can turn to when you need to talk to someone, when you need a ride to the airport, or when you need to understand something.
Living in a large city like New York City, despite busy schedules and the constant crowds of people, can often feel very lonely. Maybe you are new to the city, friends may have moved away, or perhaps you are in a new stage of life. This and many other factors can make it difficult to feel connected to others.
One thing I always focus on in therapy is: “Who are your supports?” and “What are your supports?” If you understand the “whos”’ and “whats” of your support network, you are less vulnerable to depression, stress, and loneliness. So, how do you improve your social support network? Consider some of these suggestions:
Take advantage of opportunity: Don’t hold back from putting yourself out there. If you’re invited to a networking event, give it a try. If you're free on Wednesday evenings, try volunteering. You never know who you will meet or what you will enjoy.
Schedule in advance: Make plans with your established supports regularly. Try putting a monthly dinner on the schedule with your friend. Not only is it is nice to look forward to plans, but it's better when you’re not only seeing each other when things are stressful.
Out with the old, in with the new: Let go of unhealthy relationships and join something new like online dating websites, meetup.com, or book clubs. Understand your boundaries and what is healthy for you, and limit negative relationships that take a toll on your wellness.
Don’t give up: It takes time to meet new people, make new friends, and find new interests, so be patient when developing connections. Having supports is an ongoing process, and establishing a trusting relationship doesn’t happen over night.
While putting yourself out there or finding the time in your busy schedule to make plans may be difficult, you are building and maintaining connections that will support you in the long term.