First, let's talk about why social support is important and why it matters to your self-care. Research has shown that a lack of social support (isolation) can contribute to an ongoing state of chronic stress, which will negatively impact your immune system and put you at risk for dangerous conditions.
Now, what can strengthening your social support network do for you? Social support can improve the functioning of your immune system, protecting you from disease, and it can increase your vitality, decrease your stress and improve your self-esteem.
WHAT MAKES A SOCIAL SUPPORT NETWORK SOLID?
STRENGTH - Make sure that you're not counting on one or two people to provide all the support you need. That can be hard on them, and on you (if they're suddenly unable to be there for you). Reach out regularly to several people.
VARIETY - Similarly, having many people in your support network gives you access to their different skills, perspectives and experiences.
COMMON GROUND - If you're dealing with a particularly difficult challenge or have a very specific goal, then finding and regularly interacting with others in the "same boat" can have extremely beneficial results. Whether it's finding out how others have handled a situation, or sharing some of your experience, groups like this can be a great boost to your self-care program.
SOMETHING TO REACH FOR - Make a point of building or strengthening your relationships with people who inspire, encourage and support you, and who empower you to grow and to be your best self. For instance, someone who is very committed to his or her own self-care will inspire you to make positive self-care choices. And someone who is very loving and supportive will help you to feel good about yourself.
5 WAYS TO NURTURE YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
1. Call or write when things are good as well as when they're not. Sharing your gratitude and appreciation can help to deepen your relationships and will also intensify your good feelings.
2. Be open to new people. You never know when someone new is going to come into your life or the unique gifts they will bring. I believe that sometimes we're meant to connect with certain people only briefly - so instead of thinking, "I don't have time for a new friend,", go with your heart and get curious about what you can learn from interacting with this person.
3. Offer to help. Whether it's people you know or people you haven't met yet (i.e. through a volunteer position), helping others can be a wonderful boost for your own self-care. AND remember that YOUR self-care still comes first!
4. Live by the Four Agreements, as created by Don Miguel Ruiz - Be impeccable with your word, don't take anything personally, don't make assumptions and always do your best. For more information about the Four Agreements, visit http://www.miguelruiz.com/agreements.html.
5. If you don't feel like talking to anyone, talk to someone. Sometimes we choose to be isolated. It can be really difficult to reach out when we feel like this. Do it anyway.
It's important to remember that your social relationships can also have a negative impact on your self-care. Unspoken truths, unintentional sabotage, or continuously taking on the role of care-giver can all add stress and affect your commitment to self-care.
So instead, nourish your positive relationships and keep your social support network strong and working for you.
Linda Dessau, BFA, MTA, CPCC is a self-care expert, accredited music therapist and certified life coach. Learn more about using singing for stress management, personal growth and spiritual development at www.singoutyourstress.com, where you can download the FREE report, "Top 10 Ways to Sing Out Your Stress".