Reaching Back Out: How to Build the Social Support We All Need

July 14, 2021
Inspiration

Guest Blog by Hannah Rudnick, MSW

Hannah Rudnick

Hannah Rudnick, MSW is an Empowerment Coach who has been working with people to embrace their best selves for over ten years. After leaving her career as a therapist to stay home with her first child, Hannah learned first-hand the importance of staying in touch with one’s true self and standing up for one’s needs. 

Hannah believes that all people have inherent value and deserve to live lives free from oppression and full of joy. She works with clients to get to know their deepest selves, feel confident in their decisions, and focus on living a life that feels authentic and empowered. Hannah works with clients from all walks of life, and also has a uniquely developed coaching program for parents who are ready to make themselves a focus in their lives again, as well as coaching for couples and group coaching.

Follow Hannah on Instagram @hannah_rudnick_coaching, or visit her website www.hannahrudnickcoaching.com to learn more about her work, or to book a free discovery call.  

How to Build the Social Support We All Need

Humans have always been social creatures who thrive among community. The last year was difficult for just about everyone for a myriad of reasons, but particularly in how it isolated us from the people we rely on for connection. 

As a coach, I just can’t help but look at a difficult situation and ask myself, “Okay, what’s the lesson here?”

While I imagine there are quite a few lessons to be learned from the pandemic, one that sticks out for me is just how essential our support system is to our wellbeing. When all else was stripped away, what my clients missed most wasn’t restaurants or concerts, it was sitting with their trusted loved ones and connecting. 

In a society that is becoming increasingly isolated, this sense of connection is more important than ever. 

In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Amelia and Emily Nagoski argue that human beings are built to move between time filled with connection, or within what they call the “bubble of love,” and time to ourselves.

Over the last year, that oscillation hasn’t been possible, and it’s hurt us. We need a place for our feelings, for our experiences, for our worries and dreams, and that place is often in the circle of trust and love that is being in relationship with others. 

Relationships come in all shapes and sizes, and in all walks of life. A relationship can be between two or ten, among those with similarities or vast differences. The importance lies in the connection, the listening, the trust, and the steadfast support that carries us through. 

We know that creating “social capital” or a strong social support system, is crucial to our wellbeing as humans, particularly now that we are, in some areas, beginning to emerge from the isolation of pandemic living. (1) Connection with others helps bring meaning to our lives, and impacts how we interact with both the outside world and our own internal struggles. (2)

JRNI Coaching CEO Noelle Cordeaux’s recent blog about post-pandemic growth gives us a deep understanding of just how important these connections are in our lives. She argues that if we lead with love and empathy toward one another and return our focus to a more collective experience, we can create a “new threshold of shared humanity.” She continues to say that “a byproduct of this outcome is a world where chronic stress holds less power over us, and a world where we can all find abundant peace and safety through community.” 

Knowing is, of course, the first step; but what do we do next?

How do we build and utilize that support system in ways that work for us, specifically? 

Some of us will have networks already built that we simply need to reconnect with, and some of us will be starting from scratch. For some it is easy to reach out for support, and for others it is terrifyingly vulnerable. There is no one right way to connect; as usual, there are only the right questions to ask. 

What does a support system look like for you?

Mia Birdsong wrote in her phenomenal book, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community, that “the culture of a friendship is something we can make up if we take the opportunity to talk about what we want it to be. That infinite possibility is freeing.” 

We all see family, friendship, and support differently. Think about a time in your life when you felt held, cared for. Who was around? What did that look like for you? Think about what an ideal support system would look like so that you have a blueprint for what you want to build. 

Let your intuition and your imagination guide you. We don’t have to let what society, our families, or the movies have taught us dictate the parameters of our social support system. We have the grand opportunity to create something unique and beautiful that works for our own lives and needs. 

What can you do to build a support system?

An important step in the growth process is looking for the gems that are already in your jewelry box. What support do you already have? Who is already in your “bubble of love”? Who are the people in your life to whom you can extend a hand in times of need or joy? 

Sometimes it’s less about building something new, and more about growing what we already have.

Take time to make a list of who you already know and value in your life. If the list of people in your life isn’t quite as robust as you would like, take a look at areas of connection (parenthood, professional organizations, interest groups, creative communities, etc.)

  • What interests you? 
  • What are important identity and connection points between you and others? 
  • Where can you find these people? 
  • Who at work or school can you connect with? 

Online groups are also a great place to start. Perhaps you’re a mom looking for other moms to commiserate and share joys with. Is there a local mom’s group or class you can join? Local groups offer wonderful opportunities for connection. 

  • What is available in your neighborhood that you can attend? 
  • Are there religious or spiritual communities you’d like to join? 
  • Is there a local softball team or reading group? 

Take the time to figure out how you want to connect, and then find where those people congregate. 

We often feel like we’re the only ones out there looking for community, but I promise you are not. There are others out there who have decided to create spaces for connection, our job is just to find them and then be brave enough to join. 

Stitching the fabric of community

Okay, so once you’ve decided who you’re going to call, or you’ve found the group you’re going to attend, how do you then utilize those connections to build the strongest social support system?

It’s not enough to know people, we must be close to them. We need to build strong connections that will carry us through difficult times. This means we have to model the behaviors we want from others. 

  • What would a true, deep friendship look like to you? 
  • What does it mean to be in real relationship with someone? 

As Birdsong explains, we often save our relationship-defining exploration and conversation for romantic partnerships, but there is nothing keeping us from setting up the understandings, expectations, and boundaries in all our relationships that make them thrive. The idea is to be intentional and thoughtful about how we are showing up, and how we’d like others to show up for us, and then to be vulnerable enough to talk about it. 

Part of building those relationships is also prioritizing them and giving them the time and space to grow. 

In our busy lives we tend to put our relationships on the back burner, assuming that because in our hearts we care, things will just work themselves out. The thing is, what we water is what grows. If we do not put focus and time into relationships, we can’t expect them to thrive. 

So, ask yourself: how can I create space in my life for the prioritization of my support system? How can I make that one of the pillars of my life?

What obstacles might get in your way?

As always, rarely is anything so simple as just “doing it”. We may know what we need to do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t see obstacles standing in our way. Generally, obstacles are either internal or external. That is, they either come from within us and have to do with our own perspective, or they come from the world around us. 

When it comes to reaching out for support and connection, we are talking about making ourselves vulnerable, and that can be scary. Many of us might feel anywhere from awkward to terrified at reaching out to long-lost or new people, and that is completely understandable. 

If you read the above and started to get a knot in your stomach, I see you. Take a deep breath. Now ask yourself: what is it that is causing this reaction? What story am I telling myself that makes me feel scared to reach out? 

The reality is that all forms of connection involve making ourselves vulnerable. 

If we are ever to gain the myriad of benefits from our relationships with others, we will need to address whatever makes that vulnerability difficult. Whether it comes from low self-value, a fear of rejection, or any other internal obstacle, coaching is a wonderful place to start working on what’s keeping us from reaching out. 

There are also external obstacles that can make building our community more complicated.

A demanding and time-consuming profession, small children, caring for family members, transportation or technological limitations; these are just a few of what may come up when we start to think about reaching out. 

Understanding our obstacles is, of course, essential to making a plan. The more we address them up front, the less challenging they appear as they arise. So, list your obstacles and then think of all the ways you can address them. 

Often just thinking of a challenge can make us lose some steam, but if we ask ourselves not if, but how we will manage that challenge, we begin to see that very few obstacles are immovable, or at least impossible to work around. 

For both internal and external obstacles, the questions we must ask ourselves are: what is one thing I can try that might help me overcome? What has worked for me when I’ve come up against this challenge in the past? 

Pick something to try, and we think of it not as a test you might fail, but as an experiment that will give you data for the next attempt. 

Now it’s time for the next step.

You have all your information. You know who to call. You know what obstacles you may face and what you can try should they come up. All there is left to do is to put it all together in the plan that will help you build your community. 

What will you do first? 

What is one step you can take that feels like you are moving forward, but isn’t way out of your comfort zone? Start there! 

For each of us, this will be different. Some may be ready to start making multiple phone calls and setting up hangouts; others may want to start with sending one email. The important thing is that you start, and that you keep moving. 

Remember, you get to decide the community you want to create for yourself. 

We all have a different “relationship to relationships”. We have varied histories and experiences, but the one thing we all have in common is our humanity. As humans we need connection; not only do we need it, we deserve it. 

You deserve it. 

Somewhere waiting for you is a beloved community that will hold you in the way you need to be held. All you have to do is take one step toward it.

Article footnotes:
(1) Reblin, M. & Uchino, B. 2008. “Social and Emotional Support and its Implication for Health”, Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 21(2), 201-205
doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3282f3ad89
(2) Harandi, T., Taghinasab, M., Nayeri, T. 2017. “The correlation of social support with mental health: A meta-analysis”, Electronic Physician. 9(9), 5212-5222.

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