How to Effectively Grow Your Support System
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We all experience times when we feel overwhelmed or like we have to face life’s hardships all by ourselves. Times like these are when support systems can come in handy and give us the extra boost of confidence and assistance that we need to power through and practice resilience.
A support system consists of a network of people who are able to give you support, whether practical or emotional . If you are in a tough spot, your support system will swoop in to offer you help. Overall, there are three types of support: Emotional, Instrumental, and Informational .
This support looks like a friend or family member sitting with you when you are feeling stressed or lonely. Perhaps you’re given a shoulder to cry on, or an empathic listening ear. Your support system will give you emotional support so you can feel grounded during times of mental difficulties, when your emotions are at a high.
Another kind of support lies in the practical and physical needs that you may need. If you are feeling sick, a family member might bring you a hearty meal or a hot cup of tea. If you’ve been feeling especially overwhelmed, a friend might invite you to have a relaxing movie night as a way to show their support. Your support system will provide you with practical aids when you have immediate and tangible needs.
If you need to make important decisions or are going through life changes, your support system can be a constant and reliable source of informational aid. This can come in the form of mentorship, guidance, and advice. Informational support may help you feel less stressed when you are dealing with making difficult decisions, or experiencing decision fatigue. Your support system often gives you the peace of mind that you have people to turn to for consistent and reliable advice.
Keep in mind, you might not receive all three types of support from one person. It is important that you have a diverse support system so you can receive specialized support. Maybe you have a best friend who gives you emotional support, and an older family member who tends to give you instrumental and informational support. Altogether, your support systems are extremely beneficial for your well-being.
In terms of your well-being, support systems can contribute numerous benefits to your health and social life.
Health benefits include :
- Advice to make healthy choices and make healthy behaviors
- Tried-and-true stress coping mechanisms
- Improved motivation to power through hardships
Social benefits include :
- Check-ins on your well-being
- Positive influence on social decision-making: For example, you do not succumb to peer pressure and make smart decisions for yourself.
- Healthy distractions from anxiety and stress
- Professional referrals for reliable therapists or other mental health professionals
On the flip side, if your social circle is not a right fit for you, your support systems might have a negative influence on your decisions and lifestyle. It’s important that you are able to recognize these situations and make good decisions for yourself! 
Now that you know more about support systems, here are some ways that you can grow yours:
Think about your needs 
You might need different types of support based on the situations that you are in. Think about the kind of people that could potentially make up your system: therapists or other professionals, mentors, friends, and family members.
Reach out to family and/or friends 
The first step in growing your support system is looking to those with whom you are naturally closest. Whether this means reaching out to your family or your friends of choice, the decision is yours! Think about the people who you would like to be there for you in times of need, whether for practical hiccups or emotional worries. It is very likely that these individuals are more than willing to be on your side.
Use technology to your advantage [4&5]
Spend some time using the internet to reach out to others, whether through text messages, emails, online forums, or video calls. Communication has, in many ways, been improved by technology since we do not always need to be in the presence of others to talk to them. If you ever feel lonely or need a shoulder to lean on, video call a good friend to chat!
Find people who share your interests [4&5]
Find out if there are any social opportunities within your community that gear toward your personal interests or passions. Perhaps you can join a book club at your local library or find an art class you’ve always wanted to try out! You can also use Facebook or other social media platforms to find people who enjoy similar activities as you. Although it is not guaranteed that you will get along with everyone with similar interests, people with similar personalities may have a higher likelihood of gravitating towards similar hobbies. By reaching out to like-minded individuals, you are more likely to increase your social circle and support systems!
Join peer support groups 
If you are currently struggling with certain aspects of your life, please know that you can find people who are going through similar situations as you. Joining peer support groups gives you a space to relate to others and learn ways to take care of your mental health.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help 
There are so many different communities that offer support! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for guidance, whether practical or emotional.
Cast a wide net and be proactive in reaching out 
Don’t feel dejected if one of your friends is slow to respond or seems uninterested in deepening your friendship. Sometimes, people aren’t going to match on certain wavelengths, and that’s okay . Make sure you cast your support system net as wide as you can so that you can catch a variety of people to be in your life. However, be sure to set healthy boundaries and have standards for yourself of who you are willing to let into your support system. Your support system should hold people who make you feel comfortable, loved, and heard!
Improve your social skills to connect with others 
Maybe you have a difficult time growing your social support circle, as it is difficult for you to make meaningful connections with others. Start out small! It might be easier to hold a conversation during a shared activity such as an exercise class or a book club than to spontaneously approach someone new. When you meet new people, try to find simple connections between you both and build on those shared interests. Who knows, maybe they are looking for new friends, too!
Importantly, support systems are not a one-way street. Sometimes, the people in your support systems may be in difficult scenarios or situations and therefore may be burnt out and unable to support you in the present moment. You need to remember that this is not your fault. Instead, try to acknowledge and support your friends and family in even the smallest of ways. If possible, try to be a part of their support system and check in on their well-being as well . Communication is extremely important in support systems. You must make an effort to communicate your needs in clear and respectful ways so that they know exactly how to help you. It is also important that you let them know when certain things are unnecessary or unwanted. For example, perhaps someone in your support system constantly tries to hug you as a way to show their love and support, but this makes you uncomfortable and you’d rather receive verbal support. It is beneficial for both parties involved that everyone is on the same page.
All in all, support systems are an incredibly handy tool to have. By cultivating and expanding your support system, you are able to secure an important part of maintaining your mental health. You do not have to feel alone, and you are definitely not alone. Take advantage of the resources around you and work towards improving your overall quality of life by building your support system.
 Hood, J. (2022, July 26). The Benefits And Importance Of A Support System. Highland Springs Specialty Clinic. https://highlandspringsclinic.org/the-benefits-and-importance-of-a-support-system/
 Cherry, K. (2023, March 3). How Social Support Contributes to Psychological Health. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/social-support-for-psychological-health-4119970
 Harper, C. (2023, June 22). Three Ways to Build a Support System. MyWellbeing. https://mywellbeing.com/therapy-101/how-to-build-a-support-system
 Kapil, R. (2020, August 6). The Importance of Having a Support System. Mental Health First Aid. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2020/08/the-importance-of-having-a-support-system/
 American Psychological Association. (2022, October 21). Manage stress: Strengthen your support network. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/manage-social-support
 Cutts, S. (2014, June 12). Why We “Click” With Some People and Not With Others. Psych Central.https://psychcentral.com/blog/mentoring-recovery/2014/06/why-we-click-with-some-people-and-not-with-others
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