August 2021 Connection for Stress Management
Did you know that the National Girlfriends Day is in August? Do you often realize that when you are stressed you reach out to a friend or family member? It’s no wonder, our brains and hearts are bound and appreciate the connection with others. It increases our oxytocin levels which promotes more love and compassion. The month of August I will go through the importance of connection to help manage stress levels.
New research is showing our innate ability to bond using our words and our touch and how this has a calming effect on the body. One of the studies conducted by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education showed that a simple gesture of empathy made the participants feel more connected. The researchers found that feelings of trust, safety and comfort lowered the body’s stress responses significantly and also improved heart health.
Loneliness has been linked to a variety of health problems including lower immunity, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cognitive decline. Low levels of social support have been linked to increase risk from infectious diseases, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Emotional support can be an important factor when dealing with your stressors.
We will always have stress in our lives. When you can create some coping strategies you will set yourself up to become more resilient every time a different type of stress pops up. Research studies have shown that those with high emotional support systems have lower risks of life-threatening diseases. A smart coping strategy starts with creating an amazing support system. All experts agree that we will all benefit from social and emotional support, in fact, they all agree that we are more capable of coping with our own problems when we are connected to a strong social support as it can improve our self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of autonomy.
The best part is that you don’t need a large network of people to make this happen. Having a handful of people you know you can reach out to when you need it can be a big benefit. Who in your family, close friends, neighbors, co-workers or church group could you reach out to when you have a particular situation to deal with? Do you know who will be the best listener versus the best to offer advice and strategies? Do you know who has the best ear to listen and the best shoulder to cry on?
When my son was very young he was diagnosed as high functioning Asperger’s and I had no one to talk to about this diagnosis, so I threw my net wide and found some amazing networking groups, Facebook groups and other parents who also needed and gave support. Sometimes, we have to find the tribe that will understand what we are working through to really offer you the direction, guidance and support you need. It’s okay to look elsewhere if you know your current tribe will not be able to support you in the way you truly need to be supported. It doesn’t mean they are wrong for you, they are just not right for the stress that is happening right now.
It is good to know that social supports are not a one size fits all. You will know which friend, co-worker or family member you can call on depending on the situation. Look for different kinds of support from different types of people. The more well-rounded your support system, the better support you will receive. Remember who is a good listener versus who will change the subject to be all about them. Look for the people you can trust and count on when you need them to avoid being disappointed and frustrated by friends who make you feel worse than before you called them.
Sometimes it is easy to fall into your shell and think “no one wants to hear about my stupid stressed out life.” Often, friends do see you struggling and sometimes don’t know how to reach out, so be proactive and make an effort. You don’t even have to tell them what is happening, start off by asking them what they have going on in their lives and see where the conversation goes. Sometimes just connecting with your friends can help you put some perspective into what is really happening in your life. You my not realize that one of your friends has a family member who is really sick, or that one of them has a child who is struggling. If you are there for your friends, they will be more likely able to help and support you with your needs. Some research actually suggests that providing social support is more important than receiving it.
Another great way to do this is to ask a friend to go for a walk in the park or a hike, bike ride or play tennis. Getting outside and in nature will always calm down your stress hormones and doing something with a friend doubles up the dosage.
One silver lining the pandemic brought us was the ability to use our technology to a greater advantage. I was able to reconnect with friends who live around the world and it was a true blessing. Sometimes it is nice to sit face-to-face with a friend, but it is also just as nice to call them, facetime them, Zoom with them or even write a quick text, email or message on a worldwide app for messaging. Face-to-face is always the best option, but if you are thousands of miles away and really need to chat pick up the phone and call them.
Do you have social anxiety or are you introverted or shy? You can start by asking simple questions about the other person to engage them and go from there. If you are shy, do a shared activity to break the ice. If you are anxious in social situations, find a therapist who works with social-skills training and social anxiety to give you some tools to use in these types of situations so you feel more at ease. You are not a lesser person for seeking help, in fact, you are brave and smart for reaching out to a professional to help you with something you don’t know so that you can become better at it.
Studies have shown that loneliness and isolating yourself from your social circle are associated with poor mental health as well as poor physical health. The benefit of a strong support network include:
· Enhancing self-esteem
· Promoting good mental health
· Improving your resilience to stress and stressful situations
· Alleviating the effects of emotional stress
· Promoting healthy lifestyle changes
· Lowering blood pressure and heart disease as well as increasing weight loss
· Encouraging devotion to a treatment plan
Social support is a two-way relationship that requires participation on both sides. Here are some great tips to keep nurturing the friendships in your life:
· Become a good listener. Don’t interrupt to put in your two cents, listen and hear what they are saying.
· Appreciate your friends and family and tell them how much you appreciate their thoughtfulness, kindness, friendship and advice.
· Don’t compete. Be happy instead of jealous when your friends have good days.
· Don’t overwhelm. Be careful not to overdo it with your friends or family members. Save your emails, texts or phone calls for those high-demand days when you really need it. If you feel the need to do a daily reach out, it may be time to find a good therapist to help you.
· Be there for them. Give back when a friend or family member reaches out to you for support.
· Stay in touch. Answer your phone, respond to texts, return emails and reach out to your support system so they know you care.
Remember, you are building your social support system to lower your stress levels. This may mean eliminating friendships that are toxic to you. Watch for situations and people who drain your energy, make you feel frustrated, sad, anxious or mad. Steer clear of those who are negative, pessimistic and have unhealthy behaviors like using alcohol or drugs to calm their stressors.
Building your support circle is a wise investment in your mental and physical health. It can also assist in your resilience and longevity. Start making more friends and different types of friendships as well as improve the ones you currently have. You will see your stress levels lessen and you will be able to reap the rewards mind, body and soul.