Managing Stress: The importance of social support

Written by Dr Malini Singh, Psychologist, Change for Life

Dr Angraj Khillan, Consultant Paediatrician Western Specialist Care Centre
Stress is often described as feeling overloaded, wound-up, tense and worried, and occurs when we face a situation we feel we cannot cope with.  Though stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life, but too much stress can affect our emotional and physical wellbeing.  Surveys have shown that 75% of Australian’s admit that stresses in their lives adversely effected their physical health, while 64% said it affected their mental health.  How does one cope with stress in our daily lives.  One way is to seek social support.  Social support is an important protective factor when dealing with life’s stresses.  The lack of social support and the loneliness that is associated with it has been linked to a wide variety of health problems such as high blood pressure, reduced immunity, cardiovascular disease, and compromised mental health.
The good news is that there are ways to seek out social support.

So how do we grow our social support networks

When it comes to your social supports, it is important to cast a wide net.  It is impossible to confide in one person about everything.  Hence you may need to have a friend or colleague at work you can talk to about problems at work, and a neighbour who lends an ear when you have difficulties with your kids.  Look to different relationships for different kinds of support. But remember to look to people you can trust and count on, to avoid disappointing, negative interactions that can make you feel worse.

Another way is to be proactive. Often people expect others to reach out to them.  You may feel rejected if that does not happen. To get the most out of your social relationships, you have to make an effort.  Make time for friends and family. Reach out to lend a hand or just say hello.  If you’re there for others, they’ll be more likely to be there for you.

At times it is not possible to sit down with a friend face-to-face, but it isn’t always possible.  So take advantage of technology. Technology makes it easier than ever before to stay connected with friends and family.  Write an email, send a text message or do a video chat.

Another great way to increase your social support networks is to follow your interests. If you like to take long walks, sing, make jewellery, play tennis, or get involved in local politics, you are more likely to connect with people who like the things you like. Join a club, sign up for a class or take on a volunteer position that will allow you to meet others who share your interests. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t make friends overnight. Try to enjoy the experience as you get to know others over time.

If you’re dealing with a specific stressful situation such as caring for a family member or dealing with a chronic illness you may not find the support you need from your current network. Consider joining a support group to meet others who are dealing with similar challenges.

If you lack a strong support network and aren’t sure where to start, there are resources you can turn to.  Places of worship, senior and community centres, local libraries, refugee and immigrant groups, neighbourhood health clinics or the YMCA may be able to help you identify services, support groups and other programs in your community.

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