By Elin Nicholson
They say no man is an island. This is true; we are social creatures who need others around us, particularly during times of stress and crisis. We need support and guidance from others to help us navigate life’s ups and downs. I found this to be especially true when I was suffering with anxiety and depression. At this time, I felt hopeless, at my most lonely, and unable to see a way out. My support network was my lifeline – a group of like-minded individuals struggling with mental health problems who had completed their own recovery journeys and who gave me the hope and the motivation to embark on my own.
Creating and maintaining a support network is vital for our mental health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that those who are socially isolated and suffer from loneliness are at risk of poor mental health. When times are tough, we need a social support network comprised of a variety of people who can provide us with practical and emotional support to help us through these rough patches. There are numerous people who can make up your support network – family, friends, peers, colleagues, professionals, local and online communities. Having a diverse group of supporters means that your basic needs and emotions will be met.
There are numerous benefits to having a social support network. Not only does it increase our ability to cope with stressful situations and alleviate the effects of emotional distress, social support networks can promote good mental health, enhance our self-esteem and even reduce physical symptoms. A support network can also encourage us to choose healthy coping behaviours and improve our motivation to get better – this is especially true of peer support, as talking to people who have gone through the same experiences that you are going through is a source of empathy and provides hope for your own recovery journey. They will also understand what you are going through, while family and friends, despite being loving and supportive, may not. This can lead to you feeling less isolated and alone and they can offer tips and advice for how to deal with your issues based on their own lived experience.
There are numerous channels for you to turn to in order to help you in your recovery journey out of anxiety and depression. Firstly, you need to talk to your GP, who will be able to signpost you to the relevant services. Talking to a professional, whether in your local Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) or private therapist/counsellor will provide you with the skills to face your emotional problems and begin to recover. Professionals will have a great deal of experience in dealing with people suffering from common psychological problems such as anxiety and depression and will have helped others to recover, which can give you hope for your own future. They are experts in their field, can advise on any medications to be taken and can refer you to more specialist services should this be necessary.
Another great source of support is via support groups, which can be found locally or online. Many are run by charities, such as Hope in Depression, Mind and Anxiety UK, and are groups run regularly to provide members with a safe space in which to discuss their thoughts and concerns. Although these are not therapy, they are usually led by a facilitator with professional or lived experience of anxiety and depression, and allow people to share their stories, celebrate their successes and talk about coping strategies. These groups can be a lifeline during periods of low mood and/or anxiety.
In order to cultivate a strong support network, it is important to surround yourself with family and close friends. You could also volunteer with a cause that you care about, join a fitness club or take a class at your local community college. You will meet people face-to-face who share similar interests and values. If this doesn’t appeal, then social media sites can be a useful way of making and keeping connections with similar people. Just remember to keep yourself safe whilst online and try to avoid comparing your own life to others on social media. Limit screen time if you find yourself getting bogged down in negativity.
Creating and maintaining relationships requires time and effort, which can be difficult if you’re going through a rough patch and want nothing more than to withdraw and retreat into yourself. However, if you invest your energy in your social support network, you will get the support and encouragement that you need to drag yourself out of the mire. There is no shame in asking for help, you are only human. Remember: you are not an island, and you are not alone. Why not sign up for one of our Hope in Depression courses, today!