Building friendships and support

Building friendships and support systems are key to managing stress.

The support system provided by friends and family is a potent buffer against the stresses and strains of everyday living. This support can be provided in a few different ways.

For example, support can be provided in practical ways. Providing financial support, food and clothes or offering services such as child care, use of car or house repairs is practical support.

Another type of support is psychological. This means providing personal resources when a person is coping with a stressful situation. An example of emotional support is providing confirmation that the person is cared-for and loved. Another might be esteem support when a person receives acknowledgement that they are valued and admired. The third essential form of psychological support is the sense that a person belongs to a community of people who share joys and sorrows and are committed to one another.

A third type of support is informational support. This type of support provides knowledge to others that they can use to meet their needs. By providing this information, it may equip a person to utilize their own resources more effectively. Michigan State University Extension provides informational resources to the public. MSU Extension helps people improve their lives through an educational process that applies knowledge to critical issues, needs and opportunities.

The last resource is referrals. Providing knowledge on where to go or how to ask for help aids people to obtain the assistance they need.

Most of us receive these supports from our friends and relatives but it is important to think about how we can strengthen our support system. One way you can assess you support system is to write down the names and places that provide you with support. Most people have between 10 to 35 friends, relatives and places that they can rely on for support. It is also good to look at how all the people in the support network are connected or related to one another. With your list of friends and relatives, draw lines between all of the people that have contact with each other. Social networks can very a great deal in the degree to which members have contact with each other. Some are very connected and others are not.

Network members can sometimes be a drain on resources rather than a help. Again, take the list of friends and relatives and mark how they provide practical, psychological, information and/or referrals. If you notice that you are depending on just a few of those on your support system, you may want to be careful not to stress that resource. You may find that some in your support system are restrictive and can be controlling.

By doing these assessments, you learn both the benefits and limitations of your network and can make the appropriate changes to make it a positive and strong support system.

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