Friday, October 9, 2015

Stress Busting with Social Support Networks

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Social isolation is a mistake in stress management.

While it is possible to be alone without being lonely, we all need some form of connection for good health.  In the world of stress research the data is impressive.  Social support boosts our mood, improves our immunity, and decreases our cortisol levels (stress hormone). But how do we find good social support?

  • Consider your interests. There is a club for EVERYTHING. Google it, you may be surprised.  There are writing groups, reading groups, conferences, conventions, symposiums, and lecture series.  Into healthy cooking? Seek out cooking classes, William & Sonoma workshops, and food blogs with interactive discussion groups. Like being helpful?  Volunteer, fund raise for a cause, or join a committee. (Just don’t do all of these things at one time because that would be TOO MUCH).
  • Reach out. Phone a friend, write a letter, and invite someone to coffee (tea, lunch, or other field trip). If you are feeling isolated that is a sign that you need to initiate.  It can be intimidating to be the first to make a move, but leaving your comfort zone is the good kind of stress- waiting around will not improve your connection.  Community decreases the bad stress.

Your feelings are a good thermometer of getting on track with social support. A healthy group leaves you with the feeling of being cared about and valued, with positive communication and mutual obligation.  If your chosen social “support” frequently leaves you feeling drained, irritable, or more stressed- it is no longer serving the function of support.

Social support is not the same as a support group.  A support group is a place where people with common problems (medical, psychological,or situational) meet to express feelings and encourage one another. They are often facilitated by a leader.  Support groups are a helpful addition for some people in managing stress but are not a replacement for social support.  Finding companionship and caring with some of the members within the support group may lead to social support benefits.

On a recent adventure (traveling with some of my social support network) I discovered the Oklahoma Bigfoot Symposium in Stilwell, Oklahoma. The vendors, authors, and researchers clearly shared an affinity for all things Bigfoot.  But beyond the bumper stickers, necklaces, foot castings, and beer cozies was something bigger.  I found camaraderie, kindness, laughter, and inquiries about family. Unfortunately we  arrived late in the day so we missed the promised “scientific research presentations” but what we found was a social support system.  Strong bonds are formed around the campfire deep in the woods.  They call it “Squatching,” I call it social support. 

“If you don’t have fun Squatching, don’t go.  Life is short and you need to enjoy it. Some of my favorite memories are of sitting around a campfire with good friends telling stories.” Robert Swain author of Bigfoot Boot Camp Handbook

Best of luck in finding your tribe!

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