Dr. Julie Radlauer, LMHC
What if I tell you that I have the recipe for the secret sauce? By using this sauce, you will live longer, have less stress in your life, have better cardiovascular health and have increased immunity. This sauce will also help you decrease your risk of mental health and substance use conditions, decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and help you think faster! Research shows that using this secret sauce improves overall psychological and physical well-being in both adults and children. So, what is this amazing sauce? The secret ingredient is simply… social support.
Social support is identified as a key component of solid relationships and strong mental health, but what is it exactly? Essentially, it means having a network of family, faith, and friends that you can turn to in times of need. This need for social support is universal!
Life has changed over the past few years! Do you wonder why some people can weather the storm while others struggle to cope with the changes? Suniya Luthar, professor emerita at Columbia University, identified that “the most resilient children tended to have strong relationships with caregivers they trust who make them feel listened to and loved.” It is social support that helps adults and children deal with stress and gives them the strength to move forward, and even thrive!
There are many ways to obtain social support and the research shows that participation in social groups influences behaviors including eating a healthy diet, exercising, smoking, drinking, or using illegal substances. Think about a time when you were trying to start a healthy habit or give up a bad one: did social support impact your outcome?
Amazingly, social support is incredibly equalizing. You don’t have to be wealthy to have support. Support does not pay attention to race, ethnicity, age, or gender. Support can be low cost/no cost and is accessible to most. Like most important aspects in our lives, when we prioritize a need, we can make great strides.
COVID created a challenge for many related to social support. The past few years have impacted the mental wellbeing of almost everyone. For many, the workplace environment was a source of social support and when people began working from home, access to that support was changed. For some they had to travel to see their families and that became a barrier. When you think of our youth, schools were shut down for a spell, then some children went back in person others continued virtually. Even wearing a mask is isolating and has an impact on connection- it is difficult to see if someone is smiling. When we are armed with the knowledge of the benefits of social support, it makes it easier to prioritize it in our lives. Remember, the grass is always greener where you water it.
How do you know when you need to enhance your social support systems and what can you do about it? When it comes to support, if you are feeling lonely, isolated, or lacking in support systems, it is important to assess your relationships.
If you are worried about your children, ask them to answer these questions about their relationships:
• DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH SOCIAL SUPPORT?
• WOULD YOU BENEFIT FROM DEEPENING YOUR CURRENT RELATIONSHIPS?
• COULD YOU USE SOME NEW SOCIAL ACTIVITIES?The best way to build support is to begin with relationships you already have. Identify what works in that relationship and assess how to expand it. A huge barrier to having a meaningful support system is our ability to ask for help. It’s hard to be vulnerable, and often our fear gets in the way. According to Brene Brown, “vulnerability is anything but weak, in fact, it takes true strength and courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable”. In her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, she inspires people to practice vulnerability because “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to feeling worthy and true belonging.” This speaks to both the quantity of your support and the quality.
Additionally, finding happiness in activities that bring you joy provides an amazing opportunity for connection and support. When you are passionate about something, and you enjoy that activity, it increases endorphins in your body giving you energy. Further, when doing an activity that you truly enjoy, you are likely to meet others also enjoying the same activity. Therein lies the opportunity for expanding your support system!
We know the science around the benefits of social support and social connection- remember the secret sauce? For some people making connections is difficult but Vivian, Greene says it best, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” If you want to live longer, be happier and healthier, and even think faster, having supportive people in your life is the secret sauce.
Julie Ladlauer is the CEO of Collectively, an organization dedicated to supporting individuals, organizations and communities in re-writing the narrative on mental health. Go to www.collectivelyus.org for more information.