5 Ways to Build Your Support Network After Covid
RAFT Team, May 2, 2022
What is a support network?
A support network is an informal group of friends, family, and co-workers that can make life a bit sunnier and help you through stressful times. Social isolation (aka life without a support network) can lead to loneliness, poor mental and physical health, and low self-esteem. According to Dr. Steve Cole, director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at UCLA,
Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several types of wear and tear on the body.Dr. Steve Cole, director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at UCLA
Doesn’t that make you want to build a support network that's stronger?! You’ll enjoy a happier, longer life, better health, and a better mood. Plus, a strong support network will provide you with a variety of benefits.
Do you have all 4 types of support networks?
We can divide support networks into 4 distinct categories. A few of your connections may fit into all 4. You might find others in just one. We each need all 4 types, so if your list is short in one area, work on building it out.
The people in this type of support network bolster you emotionally. When you’re down, they encourage you. When you’re frustrated, they’ll listen to you vent. This is the type of person most people think of when they examine to their support network. They’re empathetic people who are concerned about your well-being.
This social support group is all about helping you with tangible needs. If you have a rough week, they may bring you dinner. They’ll help you move, watch your kids, or help you clean the house.
These people are the ones who remind you of your value, help you keep a realistic perspective, and keep you encouraged. They often provide a perspective that helps you keep moving forward in life.
These are your go-to people for information. From budgeting to vacation tips to resources for the best medical care, they will be well-researched and quick with connections.
Who is currently in your support network?
Take a few moments to jot down the people who you currently turn to for support. Consider each of these areas:
- Interest Groups
Now determine what type of support they provide. A good deal may fit into 3 or 4 of the categories listed in the previous section. That’s wonderful! It’s easy to get tunnel vision in the middle of stress and you may forget about a few of your resources. For that reason, your list is gold! Keep it handy so you can keep in touch with these people.
How do you build your support network?
You may discover that one type of support network could use a few more people, or maybe just different people. Or you have a few connections you wish were stronger. These five steps will help you develop a strong, engaged support network.
1. Meet new people to build your support network
After 2 years of Covid, most people have become a bit more isolated. Explore some ways you meet new people, whether by joining a club, attending a weekly get-together, or reaching out a bit more at work.
2. Make time to build your support network
A support network is a two-way street. Yes, life gets busy and you may feel you’re living in a constant state of overwhelm. But make time for these people in your life. The investment is worth it! (If you need help to say no, this article on turning your no into a positive yes instead may help.)
3. Build your support network by listening
It’s wonderful when a friend listens to you and really hears what you’re saying. Your friends need this same support. Ask them how they’re doing. And then listen without figuring out what you’re going to say next. This gift of your attention will mean the world to them, and you’ll feel pretty great about it as well.
4. Trust Your Gut
Pay attention to how you feel when you’re around different people. Some may put you immediately at ease. Others might make you anxious. As you’re reviewing your support networks and seeking opportunities to grow it, these observations will help you make wise decisions on who goes and who stays.
5. Be willing to let go to build a support network that's stronger
Sometimes, the most important part of building a strong support network is letting go of some of your connections. As you change and evolve as an individual, your support networks needs will change as well.
Don’t be afraid to take people off your list. Perhaps you used to be married but aren’t any more. This can change your support network. Perhaps you used to have one type of job but are now in a different field, or your children have grown and moved out. These all signify a potential change in your support needs.
When you drift away from people, you may still feel obligated to maintain that relationship. Remember that some people are in your life to make an impact during a specific season. When that season is over, it’s okay to let go.