In my last couple of columns I’ve been discussing Reorganize, the fifth level of defense against stress in my Five R’s of Coping (Rethink, Reduce, Relax, Release, Reorganize) Model©. As I discussed, Reorganize is a lifestyle-based based approach to conquering your stress that makes you more hardy and stress-resistant.
In my last column I discussed reorganizing your physical well-being. In this column I’ll talk about how to reorganize your social well-being and continue your quest to become more stress-resistant by building a healthier lifestyle.
Reorganizing Your Social Well-being
The social dimension of health is concerned with the nature, extent, and quality of your social relationships. These relationships exist at the individual, family, community, and global level. Individual relationships are your connections with significant individuals and groups. Family relationships are similar except that the connection is through blood or a civil bond. Church groups, clubs like the Women’s Club, Rotary, and organizations like the YMCA are all examples of community-level relationships. Being friends with people on social media platforms such as FaceBook, Linkedin and Instagram is an example of global relationships.
Your social network is the composite of all of your individual, family, community, and global relationships. Studies show that being part of multiple friendships, a family, a collegial group at work, a community group or two, and global social organizations can create a support system that can help you reduce your stress.
Social support is best defined as the resources you actually derive from your social network. Social support can be broken down into three types of resources: (1) esteem or emotional support (comforting, congratulating, loving, etc.), (2) informational support (spiritual guidance, personal and professional advice, role modeling, skill building, job referrals, etc.), and (3) tangible support (help with various forms of labor, such as child care or housework, transportation, money, and emergency services such as shelter).
It is not unusual for your social support system to change as you age. When you are young, you turn mainly to your family for support. As you grow, your friends supplement whatever family support you have. Finally, when your reach adulthood, and older adulthood your main source of support is your primary partner, your husband, wife, or lover. These primary support people are augmented by others who share your work, play, worship, and community involvement.
Social support works to reduce your stress by providing a direct, protective effect that prevents potential stressors from becoming actual stressors. It also provides a buffer that helps reduce the level of stress associated with any harm or loss you suffer. This improves your ability to cope.
Before offering advice on how to reorganize your social wellbeing I want to offer a few words of caution about social support. While your social relationships can offer you tremendous support in stressful times, they also have the potential to create stress. To utilize the stress reducing properties of social networks, you first have to invest a lot of time and energy to cultivate these relationships. Additionally, social relationships require nurturing, which also takes time. There is a certain amount of sacrifice involved in forming relationships and belonging to families and groups. From a purely stress management perspective you must continually evaluate whether or not the stress reducing benefits of your social networks compensate for the stress created by the demands they impose on you.
Social Support Exercise: Your Social Support Table
Purpose: The following exercise, Your Social Support Table, is designed to help you assess the extent of your social support system and the nature of the support it provides. In addition it is designed to help you assess what you have to give up to get this support, and whether it is worth the sacrifice.
1. Draw a picture of a table (can be any shape or size).
2. Invite people who make up your social support network to sit at your table.
3. Add as many chairs as needed.
4. Add one additional chair and leave it unoccupied. This chair represents a kind of support and support person not currently a part of your network.
5. For each person you invited to your table answer the following questions:
- What type of support do I need from this person? (Try to broaden your definition of support to include the two different kinds of support discussed earlier).
- What type of support do I actually get from this person?
- What type of support would I never ask for from this person?
- What do I give up in return for the support I get from this person?
- Is the support I get from this person worth what I have to give up for it?
6. What kind of missing support is represented your empty chair?
7. What person would you like to occupy that chair (can be a specific person or type of person).
8. What did you learn about your social support from doing this exercise?
Use the information from this exercise to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your social support. Once you’ve identified areas where you lack the kind of social support you need you can start to come up with a plan to strengthen this area. Look through your local newspapers and go online and search out groups and organizations that interest you and are made up of like-minded folks who could help you get connected to the people and resources you need. Remember what we discussed months ago in my columns about values and goal setting. Your values are your signposts in your life’s journey. They will guide you and give you direction regarding what groups and types of organizations are the best fit for you as you look to expand your social network. Go to a few meetings, sign up for newsletters and see how things feel before committing your time and energy to joining a new group. You can build your social networks and get the support you want and deserve at any age.
Good luck and in the meantime remember to Stress Less and Live More.
Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more. www.drrichblonna.com.