- According to a recent study, higher levels of support are associated with lower levels of stress, depression, anxiety, substance use, and shame.
- According to research, social support boosts your psychological health, allowing you to become more resilient and increasing self-esteem.
- The self-help Support Wheel Exercise can measure how well you're doing with cultivating support.
Research shows that social support matters when it comes to your mental health. A recent study examined social support and its effects on mental health. Higher levels of social support were associated with positive self-esteem. Meanwhile, lack of social support was associated with higher depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug misuse, risky sexual behaviors, shame, and low self-esteem. Furthermore, research shows that having a social support system can positively impact your overall mental health, especially for women, the elderly, patients, workers, and students.
Our Social Support Has Been Impaired by the Pandemic: Recovery Is Needed
During the pandemic, many of us have had less access to support. Even now during reintegration, which has brought about its own stressors, many of us continue to work remotely or a hybrid work schedule and don’t have access to our personal and professional community in the ways that we used to. Isolation can exacerbate social anxiety—the more we are away from others, the more out of practice we become. Our social skills become rusty and we become less comfortable with putting ourselves out there and accepting invitations to in-person work events or family gatherings. This has a negative impact on our mental health and we need to take active steps to hop back on the horse, learn skills to cope with social anxiety worsened by the pandemic, and access support.
Measure How Well You’re Cultivating Support With the Support Wheel Exercise
In my book, The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, I created a self-help Support Wheel Exercise as a self-evaluation tool that allows you to see where your strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to cultivating support. Feel free to print out the wheel exercise, or complete it digitally with PDF filler apps such as Adobe, and share it with others who you think might benefit from it—such as friends, family, or clients. The Support Wheel Exercise is a tool to help you measure how well you are doing in these 12 ways to cultivate better support in your life:
Plant Seeds for New Relationships: Develop new connections through social activities, community events, professional networking, social media and online outreach, and marketing efforts such as e-blasts, newsletters, or mailings.
- Nurture Existing Relationships: Regularly let people in your life know how special they are to you. Reach out to them on a consistent basis and make plans to talk or spend time together.
- End Toxic Relationships: We all have relationships that deplete our energy, infuse us with negativity, bring unnecessary drama or conflict to our life, and trigger feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, resentment, frustration, or irritability. I like the expression, “Relationships are like elevator buttons; they either bring you up or bring you down.” Freeing yourself from toxic relationships creates space to establish and nurture positive relationships.
- Ask for Help and Assistance: Transcend barriers to asking for help such as shame or fear and routinely ask for emotional, logistical, community, professional, familial, and friendship support you need and deserve. Be specific and ask the people who are capable of providing it.
- Seek Wise Counsel: Regularly seek advice, consultation, or wise counsel from people who are more knowledgeable or experienced in certain areas.
- Seek Loving Care: Ask for support when it comes to your mental and physical health, including asking for love and affection. Learn ways to ask for emotional support.
- Balance Giving and Receiving: Aim to strike a healthy balance between being supported and offering support to others. Be mindful of which relationships and actions give you energy or deplete your energy and make sure your personal battery stays charged.
- Utilize Mentoring: Ask and accept support from those you admire and then, on the flip side, give that support to others.
- Cultivate Reciprocal Relationships: Strike a healthy balance of independence and dependence in your relationships so you can experience the benefits of interdependence, including mutuality. This is particularly important in partnerships, friendships, and peer and collegial relationships.
- Have Permeable Boundaries: Ensure that your emotional and relational boundaries are not too rigid or too loose so you can foster intimacy and connection.
- Openly Receive: Be open to receiving support when you run up against barriers of fear, shame, guilt, or pride. Open your heart and spirit to receiving the love and assistance you need and deserve.
- Seek Financial Support: Ask for and receive financial support. Seek help from a financial advisor or business consultant and apply for grants, loans, scholarships, loan forgiveness, and financial assistance programs that would support you.
Create Action Plan for Improvement
Identify at least three areas you think you could improve upon. How do you think dedicating some energy towards that might increase the amount of support you receive? Develop an action plan with goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) to do better in these areas. Share them with an accountability partner like your therapist or coach and set up a date for follow-up in two to four weeks.
Consider completing the Support Wheel Exercise on a monthly or quarterly basis as you work on cultivating the support you need and deserve. You are worth it.
“All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.” –Fred Rogers
Fatih Ozbay et al., “Social Support and Resilience to Stress: From Neurobiology to Clinical Practice,” Psychiatry 4, no. 5 (May 2007): 35–40.