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3 Powerful Ways to Level Up Your Support Right Now

How to increase the quality of support from family, friends, and acquaintances.

Key points

  • Improving social support is one of four key pathways to boosting resilience.
  • High-quality social support buffers the effects of stress and trauma, while increasing physical well being, mental health, and longevity.
  • One doable strategy for "leveling up" one's social support is by joining a group.

During a time when stress is unusually high, and we are bombarded by negative news, it is more important than ever to cultivate resilience—our ability to thrive in the face of hardships.

Brief Review of Resilience

As I talked about in a previous post, we can boost resilience by focusing on four main areas:

In this post, we will cover three powerful ways we can increase the quality and quantity of our social support in the coming months.

The Benefits of Social Support

Like the other three pillars of resilience, high-quality social support has been shown to have tremendous benefits for both physical and psychological health. Social support improves heart health and immunity, helps us live longer, buffers us from the effects of trauma and stress (including during the COVID-19 pandemic), reduces depression and anxiety, and helps us recover from surgery.

The American Psychological Association, in its "Road to Resilience" report, states:

“Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance, help bolster a person’s resilience.”

 Conflict 180
Source: Elaine Shpungin: Conflict 180

General Principles for Increasing Support

1. Shifting from Random to Systematic
One of the keys to increasing resilience is to go from engaging in spontaneous and sporadic activities that are good for us (like random acts of kindness for ourselves) to weaving resilience activities into the daily fabric of our lives. Resilience enhancing activities that are systematic, deliberate, dependable, and predictable, are more sustainable and have a greater impact on our wellbeing.

2. Focusing on Increasing Positives as a Start
Participants in my programs often want to know what to do about friends, family members, or coworkers whom they perceive to be negative, draining, or even toxic.

While drawing healthier boundaries, saying no, and protecting our energy from those who bring us down are all important aspects of building resilience, I have found these to be more difficult to execute when we are already stressed or worn out. We can start by increasing our connection and contact with people who lift us up and are healthy for us.

3 Powerful Ways to Level Up Support Right Now

Below is a visual summary of the three strategies, followed by more detailed descriptions and personal examples.

 Conflict 180
Source: Elaine Shpungin: Conflict 180

Strategy #1: Turn sporadic connection with uplifting friends and family into regular, scheduled contact.

Assess: If you do a mental inventory of your family members and friends, and one or more of these turn out to be sources of positivity, light, and motivation in your life, you have identified a high-quality source of support. These are the people who usually leave us feeling better about ourselves and the world after we connect with them, rather than “supporting” us by reinforcing our fears, anxieties, hopelessness, or anger. If you are lucky enough to have one or more such people in your life, you may find that you have fallen into a pattern of connecting with them on a random or arbitrary basis.

Assert: Leveling up here will require you to have some courage and persistence in finding a way to shift from the sporadic connection you have now to a regular, reliable, and dependable form of contact.

Personal Example 1: Weekly Call With Dad
One example from my own life was scheduling a weekly 30-minute call with my dad on Tuesdays, after months of playing phone tag with him. This has significantly increased the regularity of our contact and boosted both of our support systems.

Personal Example 2: Inviting Friend to Daily Gratitude Challenge
Another recent personal example is when I invited a long-time friend, with whom I was having sporadic phone contact, to a daily Gratitude Challenge. In this challenge, you and your gratitude buddy email or text each other a list of 3-5 things for which each of you is grateful that day. This is a fantastic way to become closer to someone because you get little glimpses of their day through a positive lens.

Strategy #2: Initiate more frequent contact with an acquaintance whose presence lifts you up.

Assess: In this version of leveling up your support, you take a mental inventory of coworkers, neighbors, fellow committee members, and other acquaintances in your life – looking for the same criteria. Do any of them seem to lift your mood or help you feel more hopeful when you are around them? Do they seem to be great listeners or share your values in important ways?

Assert: This strategy, like the other one, requires you to show some courage by inviting one or more of these folks to hang out outside the usual boundaries of your acquaintance (e.g., join you for coffee, a weekly walk, a small dinner party you are throwing, or a discussion group to which you belong).

Personal Example: Inviting Colleague to Monthly Lunch
Last year, I invited one of my work colleagues out to lunch. This was a person who struck me as having a positive outlook without being pollyannish and seemed to have a high overlap with some of my values. At the end of the lunch, I gathered my courage and asked the person if they’d be interested in doing something like this on a regular basis, maybe once a month. They enthusiastically agreed, saying they had been looking for ways to enhance their circle in the same way. This August, we celebrated a year of great monthly conversations and connection.

Strategy #3: Seek support outside the box by joining groups or trading/paying for services that enhance support.

Assess: Like the first two strategies, this one begins with a mental inventory. This inventory asks us to look at areas of our lives where we feel stuck or have goals or dreams we do not seem to be pursuing successfully.

Much of the time, when we tell ourselves we are not strong enough, don’t have enough willpower, or are not disciplined enough, we are sending a signal to ourselves that it is time to seek support for this area of our lives. From the early days of hunting and gathering, human brains and neurological systems are built for cooperation and doing the hardest things together—in the company of others.

Assert: The trick of this strategy is to give ourselves permission to seek support outside of our immediate safe bubbles. This may involve joining a group, working with a coach or teacher, or hiring/bartering for instrumental support like yard work, housecleaning, or childcare.

Personal Example: Joining Writing Group
This year I decided I wanted to finish a first draft of a book (and hike down to the Grand Canyon) before I turned 50. I tried writing daily for 30-60 minutes and found that I was quite inconsistent. To me, this inconsistency to work toward my own goal was a sign that a bit more support was needed. This is when I joined an online writing accountability group called “Shut Up and Write.” As a result of being part of this group, the number of words I wrote per week increased dramatically.

Ready for a 3-Month Support Challenge?

Over the next 3 months, challenge yourself to level up in one of each of the 3 tiers for a significant boost in support and resilience within 12 weeks.

References

Effects of sources of social support and resilience on the mental health of different age groups during the COVID-19 pandemic (BMC Psychiatry)

Four Ways Social Support Makes You More Resilient (Berkeley's Greater Good)

The Road to Resilience (American Psychological Association)

Dr. Shpungin's January 2022 Moving Toward Your Purpose Program

*The information above does not apply in cases of abuse. If you think you may be experiencing violence from someone in your life, you fear for your emotional or physical safety, experience frequent threats, or find yourself in an overly controlling relationship, it is not your fault. Please seek out local resources or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (24/7, free, and confidential via online chat, text, or phone).

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