Building your support system shouldn’t cause you stress. Here are some ways to reinforce your support system and fill in the gaps.
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Reinforcing Your Support System
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Reinforcing Your Support System

Building your support system shouldn’t cause you stress. Here are some ways to reinforce your support system and fill in the gaps.

Despite the many instances of the word ‘self’ (self-awareness, self motivation, etc.) that is commonly found in mental health literature, mental health is not something you have to deal with on your own. It is not an awful topic that should be hidden; instead, it should actually be discussed more often than it is. In fact, the quality of your mental health and your support system have a high correlation, so building a social support system or maintaining the one you already have is beneficial and can be crucial to the improvement of mental well-being [i]. We need to start the conversation about mental health management, and a first step into that can be reinforcing your support system. Unfortunately, finding quality support can be difficult for some, but with widespread information and new technology, you can fortify your support system better than before.


A support system refers to a network of individuals who you can reach out to for help whether it be emotional or physical. These can include a variation of people from different parts of your life. Some examples are family, friends, peers, faculty, colleagues, or even professionals in the medical field. Research has shown that those with a strong support system go on to live longer and are physically healthier [ii], and it also demonstrates a large correlation in how social and emotional support from other individuals can be beneficial in protecting your health to begin with [iii]. In addition to this, your support system can provide you with information, advice, or tangible assistance when you are at your most vulnerable and insecure. They can talk you through problems and form solutions, all the while making sure that you feel like you are being seen and heard [ii].  Social support will reconnect you to the outside world which may give you a break from the isolation, and it allows the opportunity to focus on people rather than your worries. One of the greatest assets is that your support system can have the added benefit of unprompted check-ins. In many, isolation is a huge obstacle to get over. Individuals reaching out to you when they see issues in your emotional patterns can allow you to properly manage your mental health while being positively influenced and provided with healthy distractions [iv].


It is helpful to first determine what you need out of your support system, and using that information, you can then choose individuals that would fit your needs. Are you looking for someone who can truly listen, someone to help give you qualified advice on how to deal with problems you are experiencing? Or are you looking to fix a gap that people sometimes can’t fill? People like close friends or family members might be candidates for listening; those like counselors or professionals in your life might be better suited if you’re seeking advice, but technology can also now be used where an area might be lacking.  Either way, while you are focusing on the part most in need of support, ensure that you do not let the other areas of your life fall behind; your mental health is dynamic and your support should be too.


With the knowledge of who to include, you now have to find them and build rapport. If you are more sociable and outgoing, joining a club or a sport can give you the opportunity to build a relationship through a common interest. If these are not for you, other options include making an effort to get to know your neighbors or colleagues at work, and you could join trusted online communities. There are many communities that are specific to challenges one might be facing, from becoming a new parent to dealing with the loss of a loved one, so you can easily find something that fits you. Regardless of your socializing tendencies, professional help in the form of counseling or therapy may also be a good option. Just ensure that they are trained and licensed professionals and that you feel comfortable with the person, that is as important when choosing a counselor as it is when making friends. Therapists and counselors can give you advice in situations others might not have an answer for and may help improve your emotional resilience. The point of a support system is to have it before you need it; that way you can prevent or lessen the impact of a decline in your mental health.


Soon technology may also have a place in our support system as it promises the ability to fill in gaps that are in many people’s systems. Mental Health tracking in this aspect can be beneficial for those who spend large amounts of time to themselves, whether it by choice or by trade, because it can be there for you when other individuals are unable to support you. Technology can have the ability to give you an unbiased look at what you need in terms of support while also determining the effectiveness of your mental health strategies as well. This can help those who may at first struggle to discuss their mental health with other individuals because it gives you the information you need without the subjective threat of sacrificing your privacy by sharing your thoughts with others. Technology could also alleviate some of the feelings of loneliness that come from dealing with complex issues that affect our mental wellbeing on our own and without guidance. These solutions are also just the beginning of the potential that technology holds in aiding your health. Technology could fill the existing gaps in your system, and it might find gaps that you didn't know were there. It can become an integral part to the formation of a support system because it can be molded to fit your unique needs and can help you overcome some of the initial hurdles when it comes to talking or thinking about your mental wellbeing.


A good support system is there to help you in your moment of need, and so this is something that has to be built before you need it. However, it also needs to be constantly reviewed as your needs grow over time. Use this time to understand what you need, and utilize the tools at your disposal to reinforce your support system. A proper system is beneficial to everyone, so do not let the stigma of mental health keep you from being the healthiest version of yourself. There are options for everyone, and you don’t have to do it alone.

References

[i] Harandi, Tayebeh Fasihi, et al. “The Correlation of Social Support with Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis.” Electronic Physician, Electronic Physician, 25 Sept. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5633215/. 

[ii] Butler, Lisa. “Developing Your Support System.” University at Buffalo School of Social Work, University at Buffalo, 7 Oct. 2019, socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit/additional-self-care-resources/developing-your-support-system.html. 

[iii] Reblin, Maija, and Bert N Uchino. “Social and Emotional Support and Its Implication for Health.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 20 Aug. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2729718/. 

[iv] Hood, Dr. Julia. “The Benefits and Importance of a Support System: Highland Springs Clinic.” Highland Springs, 3 Feb. 2020, highlandspringsclinic.org/blog/the-benefits-and-importance-of-a-support-system/. 


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