Social Support: How to Find It, Keep It and Benefit from It
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
Having a strong social support network is good for your health. And
conversely, not having one can be detrimental to both your physical and mental
Health experts note that having a social support system is even more important
now, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The need is especially acute for
nurses and healthcare professionals, many of whom are working under a
heavier-than-usual burden of stress.
For one thing, having a strong support system can help you cope with
the emotions that deplete your energy. “Social support is a mechanism through
which we experience the replenishing experiences like trust, hope, contentment,
humor, happiness and joy, to name a few,” says Karen Wade, PhD, RN-BC, author
of the new book Career Clarity for Nurses: Navigating Nursing Through
“We need each other”
Social support matters for everyone. Every individual needs other
people whom they can count on for help and encouragement.
“Social support is an important part of a healthy balanced life,” says
Aaron Weiner, PhD, a clinical psychologist and addiction counselor. “Even if
you consider yourself introverted, chances are there are still some
relationships you value and cherish.”
“No person is an island,” notes Wade. “It is the rare individual who
can succeed in life alone, without needing assistance and support from other
In fact, the title of a recent column in Social
Anthropology says it all: “We need
each other: Social supports during COVID-19.” In it, author Gerald Patrick
McKinley describes the stress that he and his mother have experienced as she
received cancer treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic without access to their
regular full social support networks.
Another recent study also highlighted the risks of loneliness. Published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity,
assessed nearly 4,000 people in Spain for the psychological impact of the
COVID-19 pandemic. Loneliness, as it turns out, was the biggest predictor for
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.
Knowing you have a group of friends or family who have your back in a
difficult time has a positive impact on your ability to cope with stress,
regardless of whether you reach out to them or not, notes Weiner.
“Particularly in this time of social distancing and increased stress
and anxiety due to COVID-19, keeping friendships active over distance and being
confident in perceived support is a critical ingredient to feeling centered and
stable in your emotional health,” he says.
How strong is your existing social support system?
“Evaluate your current support system. What is working and what is
not?” says Tonya Hansel, PhD, associate professor of social work at Tulane
University. “Also evaluate not only what you are receiving from your support
system but what are you providing? This should be in balance for a healthy support
Once you’ve assessed your support network, you can figure out where you
may need to shore things up.
For example, you might realize you need to make more of an effort to
reach out to friends and family on a regular basis. And you may need to figure
out which format is best for contacting them: a phone call, a text message,
videoconferencing, in-person visits, etc. You may find that one friend responds
to one mode of connection while another prefers something different.
It may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you.
Scheduling regular times to get together—for coffee, for dinner, for a walk—can
also help, so you’ll already have these social appointments on your calendar
Away from home? Developing primary
and secondary support systems
Even in non-pandemic times, the distance factor can be challenging for travel
nurses when they’re away from home, working on assignment. Unless you bring
a spouse or a fellow traveler with you, you’re literally miles away from the
people in your social support network.
Wade worked as a travel nurse for many years, and she had two
approaches toward building and maintaining a strong social support system. First,
she would sometimes take travel assignments just a few hours away from home, so
she could drive home when she had two or more days off in a row. But when she
worked farther away from home, she put special effort into developing new
relationships in her new community.
You, too, can develop what Wade calls a “supplemental support network”
when you’re away from your primary support network. This might include
connecting with fellow travel nurses, or it could be connecting with a local
runners’ group, a fitness studio, a religious congregation or even a book club.
Building a stronger support network
during pandemic times
When you’re feeling burned out or exhausted, it’s too easy to withdraw
from others, warns Mara Maeglin, MSW, LCSW, owner of Mara Maeglin Therapy and
Wellness in Denver.
“However, it is important to stay connected to others outside work and
to utilize your support system,” she emphasizes.
Of course, it’s not as easy to connect with people when social
distancing is the order of the day. You can always pick up the telephone, but
there are other ways to maintain those connections.
“The short answer is you have to get creative finding ways to meet your
social connection needs,” says Maeglin.
- Schedule a weekly Zoom, Skype or other video call
with loved ones
- Start a group text or Messenger conversation
- Plan a socially distanced gathering in a
backyard or park
- Coordinate a socially distanced game night or
- Go on a hike or bike ride with a friend
You can also turn to the Internet. Visit an online community, forum, or
support group to connect with other nurses, suggests Wade, so you can share
your work-related frustrations and get encouragement from people who really
understand your situation.
of Social Distancing? Fun Websites and Apps to Stay Connected
Networking Tips for RNs
Facts About Travel Nurses
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