Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT
In the journey of life, the people we surround ourselves with and choose to keep in our lives play a significant role in our happiness, success, and overall well-being. Therefore, knowing each person's role in your life is important. We’ve gotten really loose with the word friend in recent years, so much so that we must be reminded that not everyone is our friend. Even young children refer to their peers as friends. It’s become a societal norm. We need to label people properly; for example, a person you are close to at work is a good co-worker, and your boss is your boss, even though you may be friendly. Understanding each person’s role leads to solidifying who is part of your network and in what way. Having a strong support system is vital for preserving our mental health.
First, we must answer the question, what exactly is a support system? If you are not sure, a support system is a group of people who provide you with mental, emotional, and practical support when you need it most. They also help keep you going strong when you're doing well or lift you up when you are falling behind. This group is filled with people you seek comfort, connection, and support from when you need it. Whether this is physical, emotional, or practical support, they should be there for you in the bad and good times to keep you going.
Creating a strong support system comprised of positive and supportive individuals is absolutely crucial for personal growth and overcoming obstacles in our lives. We have all experienced how negative influences can drain our energy and impede our progress, making the presence of a supportive network even more vital. Within this blog post, we will delve into the numerous advantages of cultivating such a support system and offer practical advice on how to surround ourselves with uplifting and encouraging individuals.
Recognize the Importance of a Support System
Like the saying "no man is an island," humans are wired for connection and thrive in supportive environments. By nature, we are social creatures, and recently, that has been shaken by events like the pandemic, social relationships have become strained more than ever, and it is important to seek out those vital connections, the ones that are beneficial to us.
Social connections are essential to prevent loneliness. Loneliness can do more than emotional harm; there can also be physical consequences. Loneliness has been attributed to weaker immune systems, higher blood pressure, other heart health problems, and diminished brain functioning. A robust support system will reduce loneliness, reduce the risk of physical symptoms, reduce stress and depressive symptoms, and show improvement in confidence, self-esteem, satisfaction, and overall emotional and physical well-being.
A robust support system offers emotional, mental, and even physical assistance during tough times, helping us maintain a positive mindset and navigate life's ups and downs. Surrounding yourself with positive people cultivates a sense of belonging, inspiration, and accountability.
Identify Positive Traits & Core Values
To attract positive people, evaluating your values and aspirations is crucial.
What exactly do you want from your support system?
What are your expectations?
What are the qualities that you appreciate in individuals?
What kind of behavior do you find inspiring?
What are the boundaries you need to set up for this group?
Who is essential for your support system?
Do you need support from friends and family or professional help?
A mental health professional can be a part of a healthy support system. Identifying positive traits will allow you to recognize them in others better and build meaningful connections based on shared values and visions. You can recruit the best supporters when you have solidified the qualities and expectations you have for them.
Evaluate Your Current Relationships
Evaluate your existing relationships and assess whether they contribute positively to your life. Will those who are lights in your life be able to give you what you need and are looking for in a support group? Those in your support system should genuinely support and care for you. They need to be there for you, show you compassion, and be a stable presence. However, remember that you should also be able to do the same for them. Studies show that providing support can benefit you equally or even more.
Conversely, surrounding yourself with negative influences can hold you back and hinder personal growth. Are there people who only bring you down? Have they negatively contributed to your emotional and physical well-being? It may be necessary to distance yourself from individuals who consistently bring negativity drama, or drain your energy. Your health and well-being come first, so setting boundaries and cutting people out if necessary is essential. Recognize and prioritize those who uplift, encourage, and genuinely support you.
Seek Out Positive Communities
Enhancing your social circle and finding a supportive community is vital for personal growth and success. Engaging with both online and offline communities can help you connect with like-minded individuals who share your aspirations and passions. While friends and family are often the obvious choice for support, it's essential to explore alternative avenues if you lack a strong support network. Here are some steps you can take to expand your social circle:
Join local social, professional, or activity groups: Participating in community organizations is an excellent way to meet new people with similar interests and goals. Get involved in clubs, organizations, or groups that align with your hobbies, career, or personal preferences.
Discover like-minded individuals in your regular hangouts: Extend your interactions beyond your immediate circles by striking up conversations with individuals you encounter at places you frequent, such as yoga studios, bars, parks, or your child's school. These everyday encounters can potentially lead to meaningful friendships.
Consider joining a support group: Surrounding yourself with people who are facing similar challenges and struggles can provide immense support and understanding. Look for support groups that cater to your specific needs and interests and share experiences with others who can relate.
Engage online while practicing internet safety: The internet offers countless opportunities to connect with individuals or communities that share your interests or experiences. However, it is crucial to prioritize internet safety by exercising caution and protecting your privacy. Online platforms can be instrumental in discovering like-minded people, but remember that quality relationships are more important than quantity.
Building new relationships can be intimidating for anyone, but courageously starting conversations, attending events, or volunteering within these communities are great ways to foster connections and create meaningful bonds with positive individuals. Your support system should incorporate a diverse range of individuals, ideally with varied cultural backgrounds, to provide diverse perspectives and enrich your experience.
Cultivate Positivity Yourself
Good people attract good people, so cultivating your own positive outlook and behaviors will naturally draw positive people towards you. Remember, you are the most important member of your support system. Practice gratitude, kindness, and empathy in your daily life. Preserve positivity by engaging in self-care and practicing healthy coping mechanisms.
It can be easy for us to focus on the negatives. Surrounding yourself with positivity starts with emanating it yourself. This may take time, commitment, and patience. Small gestures like smiling in public occasionally, which is a good start, will invite others to do the same or feel good about themselves as they watch you. This attitude will create a magnetic effect, attracting individuals who appreciate and value your positivity.
Be Open & Vulnerable
Building a strong support system requires being open and vulnerable in your interactions. Share your dreams, concerns, and challenges with individuals who demonstrate genuine care and understanding. Being authentic and transparent allows others to reciprocate and provide the support you need. People can’t be there for you if they aren’t aware of your needs.
If you are worried about “trauma dumping” or overloading your friends and family, seeking individual therapy can be an asset to assist with developing ways to communicate with your support system, or they can become part of it; most can be both. A healthy outlet for your feelings is important for your mental health, and having a therapist in your support system can be beneficial for this reason. They are an impartial party in your life with no bias whose job is to listen.
Invest in Healthy Relationships
Invest time and effort into your relationships; don’t just call on people when needed; spend time cultivating authentic connections. Let people know that they are in your support system. Tell them how they can support you if they are willing and able. Do not leave them guessing. The thought of reaching out and being rejected can be scary, but you will not know until you put an effort into it. This is the best way you can set yourself up for success.
Remember, everyone has their own limits and boundaries, so you do what you can to maintain healthy stress levels. Create healthy opportunities for meaningful connection, such as scheduling regular catchups, engaging in shared activities, or initiating deep conversations. Cultivate genuine friendships based on trust, mutual respect, and shared values. Remember, building a support system is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and nurturing.
Surrounding yourself with positive people forms the foundation of a strong support system, providing encouragement, motivation, and a sense of belonging. By recognizing the importance of a support network, evaluating relationships, seeking positive communities, and investing in healthy connections, you can build a valuable support system that supports your growth, happiness, and success. You choose the people you surround yourself with, so choose wisely and embrace the positivity that comes with it!