USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Create a Network of Support

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

Key Point

You need at least a couple of people who will respond quickly if you must face a troublesome event. Ask: If a crisis happened today, who would I have to call?

Having supportive people in your life is critical to your emotional well-being. Psychology experts often emphasize that individuals who face any type of challenging situation, such as a major illness or job crisis, will manage that situation with less stress if surrounded by friends and family.

Not having supportive people in your life is a tough way to exist. Sadly, there are plenty of people in this boat. One reason for this lack of support is that some people do all of the giving, not receiving attention back from others. You may be one of these people. Are you giving a lot but failing to receive emotional or physical support in return?

Building a network of people is a process. You can’t magically conjure up three great friends overnight. You can’t locate experts to help with your career plans or home building plans by snapping your fingers.

You have to start paying attention to the support you really need. This way, you can make decisions to ensure you’ll meet specific people. Take the time to review who you might need in your circle of life. For instance, you might need a friend who is a particularly good listener, a math tutor for your child, or a tennis partner.

Supportive People Add Stability

Think of your network as those professional contacts, plus family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who play an important role in your life. You will run your life on the strengths of these supportive people. If your life feels somewhat shaky, start to review the people you need to enlist as important agents for your overall life program.

Think, too, about draining people who are always letting you down. Should you consider removing them from your life program? If you can’t end a relationship altogether, could you take a couple of steps back? Slowly, you can start to put more distance between yourself and draining people.

Here are just a few supportive people we all need:

  • An auto mechanic to service our vehicles
  • A good barber or hairdresser
  • Someone to baby sit our children
  • A friend who will listen to our private fears/concerns
  • A life coach who will help us reach our goals
  • Family or friends to be there for us on special occasions
  • Teachers and role models
  • Friends we can relax with and share recreational activities
  • Friends who cheer us on when life is challenging
  • A good doctor to serve as our general practitioner
  • A competent pharmacist to give us advice on medications

Here’s how a supportive group of people can enhance your life:

  • A certain friend might exercise or hike with you on weekends
  • Another friend might meet you at the gym on weekdays
  • A neighbor may drive your kids to soccer practice
  • Another neighbor might feed your dog when you’re on vacation
  • A co-worker can offer advice on a specific healthcare facility
  • Your child’s teacher may lend you materials on tutoring
  • An uncle may lend you gardening tools for a landscaping project
  • Your doctor may provide guidance on weight loss

If you need to connect with more friends or influential people in your community or beyond, take some proactive steps. Start with the individuals in your circle of life and try moving beyond that circle.

These steps can help:

  • Eat lunch at a different table. By joining a friend at lunch who’s sitting with a couple of people you haven’t met, you can branch out. Engage by listening and contributing pleasant conversation, however. Don’t gripe and groan in the presence of new people.
  • Join an exercise group. When you attend an aerobics or Zumba class two days per week, for example, you will get to know several individuals in the class. After a few weeks, there is a strong possibility you will connect with at least one other person.
  • Join a professional group. Attending monthly meetings and special events with active leaders in your community is a good way to connect. You will learn about the workplace backgrounds of various people and their community connections. Having acquaintances in such a circle is a good way to gain information or referrals you might need for your business or a job search.
  • Volunteer to help good causes. When you assist in helping children, the elderly, or fundraising opportunities, you will instantly connect with individuals of quality with an open, giving spirit. Typically, those who volunteer on a regular basis have shaped their own lives well, so they have time and energy to assist other people.
  • Take a class at the local college. By meeting staff and students in an academic setting, you can learn about community events, group trips and excursions, plus speakers coming to town. Often, you will find a friend or professional person in a classroom setting who can provide needed advice or phone numbers for networking further.

Practical Help Goes a Long Way

Key Point

Women usually form more close friendships than men. But men who learn to broaden their support system -- moving beyond having just a few close pals -- will have less stress throughout life.

While we all need physical resources, we cannot substitute anything that will take the place of having supportive people in our lives. In tricky and sensitive situations, it’s often a person that will take us to higher ground. A person can offer comfort, feedback, ongoing verbal encouragement, or much-needed physical help on the spot.

Having a friend to call when your car has stalled on the interstate, for example, takes off a lot of pressure. Your friend can help you decide to have the car towed or have the car fixed onsite. Having someone to help you make a decision is very comforting.

In using the analogy of a stalled car, think about who might help if your career is stalled or completely stuck. Would having a mentor or career coach help you move off dead center?

Early in life, girls quickly learn the value of having a circle of influence. Boys and men, on the other hand, can tend to have only one or two close friends throughout life. Men can, for example, rely heavily on their wives or girlfriends as their main emotional support system.

It’s interesting that male emergency responders, for example, report talking more openly with male peers. They learn to reveal deeper thoughts and feelings in order to find support and bond with co-workers. Due to the emotionally taxing nature of their work, they are routinely encouraged to talk with peer supporters -- those co-workers who are trained to offer advice and feedback.

It’s a fact that individuals working in emergency response often live in groups at the EMS/fire station for long stretches, too. This helps them develop more of a brotherhood and sisterhood over time as they share meals, down time, and street stories while living in close proximity.

What’s interesting about workers in higher-paying positions, such as top-level management positions, is that these workers tend to cut themselves off from personal support at work. After all, if you’re the CEO of a hospital, you can’t very well talk about your health problems or marriage problems in the hospital cafeteria.

If you run a huge transportation business or restaurant chain, you can’t talk about your personal financial issues with workers who earn a fraction of what you earn. That’s why it’s critical to find support as you move up the workplace ladder. It can be very depressing and lonely to spend too much time in the Ivory Tower.

While you can’t confide as readily in co-workers when you become their boss, you can find support via social media and talking on the phone with others who are removed from your close inner circle. Contacting people on your level of responsibility in another state, or across the country, is a good way to reach out for help.

A Broad Reach Is Often the Best

“When I get stressed out, I call some of my doctor friends I’ve met at conferences,“ says a pediatrician we’ll call Tony. “I usually email someone to ask if he or she can talk by phone. I tell them to give me a time to call when they’re not busy. I avoid sharing too much by email, of course, because you never know if others can access an individual’s email.”

Tony says his wife was diagnosed with cancer the same day he lost two patients last year. “I came home crying over the loss of two children who died that day in the pediatric ward,” says Tony. “When I opened my front door, my wife was an emotional wreck -- running into my arms with her diagnosis.”

Tony says he was glad he had friends to call. Finding supportive people after you’re under the crushing weight of stress is hard to do, he emphasizes.

“I would advise anyone to actively seek out some support before the world turns upside down,” says Tony. “Every person needs to find supportive people. But, what do most of us do? We dump everything onto our spouse or best friend. That’s really a lot of pressure we’re placing on just one or two people.”

Your Empty Places Provide the Clues

Key Point

Your imagination is an excellent tool for figuring out people you need to find. Just envision that a fairy godmother asks you: “Who do you need in your life? Tell me exactly what people you’d like to show up.”

All of us have emotional gaps we need to fill. Maybe it’s been years since you shared your innermost thoughts with someone. Maybe you need someone to laugh with, especially if you have a stressful job that requires over-giving or over-doing. Or, you might need a career mentor if you’re already enmeshed in job burnout.

Make a list of new connections you need. Take the assessment of your support network as very serious business, especially if you’re extremely stressed out. Would you say you need a pal, a mentor, or a personal fitness trainer? Can you picture individuals who could really add strength to your life? Who could help you reach your goals?

By thinking in ways like this, you can decide who you need to meet. Then, you can decide where you might meet them. Figure out where people you’re seeking tend to go. Would this be a health club? Community seminar? Church or synagogue? Business meeting? School event at the local college? A large-scale convention in a major city?

Keep in mind that when you meet someone and build a relationship, you are connected in some ways to everyone in that person’s circle of influence. That’s why it’s worth it to invest the time, energy or finances to connect with supportive people. Living your life with sufficient “people support” will automatically reduce stress in your life that nothing else can.