ONE OF the great ironies of the coronavirus lockdown and social distancing is that we are all reminded that anyone can become infected, everyone is affected, and no one is a stranger anymore. This reminds me of a spiritual teaching I heard once, saying that if the foot has a problem (a thorn in it), the hand is not in pain but the hand helps it anyway because the body is interconnected. Social support works a lot like this, and so this post is devoted to exactly that.
When I did my Doctorate over 20 years ago (yes, really!) on mediating anxiety while waiting for a possible diagnosis of breast cancer, part of it was to do an intensive literature study. I was especially interested in what would buffer someone from the stress and anxiety of a possible cancer diagnosis, also what would positively impact on prognosis. I found a lot of papers on spirituality, no surprise there. Being part of a family or partnership was also helpful in many cases. These made sense to me as factors that would reduce stress and anxiety when dealing with illness, but what was this “social support” thing that kept showing up as one of the main buffers as well?
It took some time – no internet yet, so University library it was – and what I discovered was surprising in that it seemed so obvious, but then why was it not being taught to psychology and other healthcare students!
Over the years in practise (heading for 28) I have used and taught the concept often, and it has made a difference every time. Social support even has a whole chapter to itself in my first book, Get the Balance Right: Coping Strategies for Working Moms. (Note: That chapter is available as a free download from this website.) And it’s even more pertinent this week, with Pesach and Easter coming up for many of you. So this newsletter is devoted to all things social support, in a time when social has become a bit of a bad word…
The big five of social support
There are five types of social support, which I will list along with a brief description.
- emotional (a safe person to vent to or freely express hopes, dreams and fears with)
- practical/instrumental (hands on help, sometimes financial)
- esteem (making you feel worthwhile, whatever your status or possessions, achievements or mistakes)
- information (guidance, feedback, accurate information)
- companionship (allowing you to feel you’re not alone)
Ideally, you’d have two to three sources of each, so there’s always someone you can lean on when you need it and you don’t overuse the one or two you may have. Also important is to notice where YOU are the social support for others, and try to balance the output with input or self-care. So it needs to be a priority to find good sources of all these types of support, especially right now with half of the world in lockdown and not much travel or socialising going on!
Social support during lockdown
During lockdown it can be a bit trickier to find helpful support. Even if you’re usually a resilient, can-do person, this pandemic and the emotional as well as economic fallout, never mind the risk of you or a loved one getting sick (anxious already?) can get to you from time to time. This is when you need a safe place to let it all out, with someone who will listen without judging or advising, and certainly not pass on what you have said! If you’re lucky they are also the person who gives good hugs, or brings you a cup of tea – again without a word! The first is an example of solid emotional support, and the second is the practical kind of support, good for the current situation and good in general.
Now for how to find the other three kinds of support, specifically during lockdown. The Information kind of support is an important one right now with numbers, theories and rumours flying around the newspapers, internet and chat groups as we speak. We may be hungry for some kind of connection and trying to find out something that will make us feel like it’s all going to be ok, and that’s fair enough. Just be discerning in what you choose to look at, and when. I am limiting myself to a few groups, one or two chats, and only checking social media twice a day (trying to, anyway). As for news, that’s down to once a day now, from a reputable site that I have figured works for me. Just facts, some stories I can skip over, and information I can use.
Companionship support is an easy one at this stage, with at least half of the world in the same situation of lockdown, and pretty much all of the planet in the situation of trying to keep going through this pandemic and what follows after. This is where finding like-minded folk online is really helpful, and don’t discount your pets, a good book, or actually understanding social references because everyone is watching the same series and giggling at the same Youtube videos of new words to classic (ABBA) hits…
Esteem support is typically a difficult one to find, because it’s based in unconditional acceptance of you as a person, separate from your behaviour (i.e. floods of tears or high irritability that may be happening being confined to home). If you have enough sources of the other four, you can manage with less of this one for now.
For more explanation on each type along with tips on how you’d usually find them, check out the Social Support Guide free download, which is a chapter excerpt from my book, as I mentioned earlier.
Finally, whether you tend to be the hand or the foot, what’s most important is to remember that we’re all interconnected in the “global body” of humankind.
Podcast Interview If you’d like to listen to a conversation I had, on this very topic, with Radio 702’s Cindy Poluta on her Locked & Down podcast series, here’s the link.
Social Support Guide You can get your free download here. It’s a chapter excerpt from my book Get the Balance Right: Coping Strategies for Working Moms. Incidentally, I’ll be launching an updated second edition of that book on 5 May 2020.
Leadership Tips Are you a leader, trying to manage your team while everyone is working remotely? One of the ways to up your game is to lead using coaching style conversations. You can find out more here.
Prayer & Meditation Want to try prayer or meditation and be part of a community working on their state of mind? There are many online classes based in a range of belief systems being streamed most days from various centres around the world. My Jozi “go to” can be found at www.meditation.org.za.
SADAG And as always, SADAG do a superb job of providing support for those who don’t have it, or those who are being the support for everyone else!