Human beings may not run in packs like wolves, but in one way, we have a lot in common with the wilder cousin of (wo)man’s best friend – we’re social animals, and we can find strength in turning to each other, even during periods of time when reaching out to people feels harder than usual. Social support is an important part of strong mental health. Having a support system in place can be a great way to make sure you’re ready for the inevitable ups and downs of life.
It doesn’t have to look like what you expect
Is there someone in your life you would feel comfortable sharing your struggles with? It doesn’t have to be the person you might feel you’re expected to turn to. Maybe the person who usually falls into the best friend category for you is a little high-strung, and opening up the question of mental health support with that person feels harder than not asking for help at all right now. That’s okay, and it doesn’t mean that person isn’t important to you. There may be someone else in your life who is a better listener, or someone who has more time for you. Maybe it’s a casual friend that can help you the most right now. You can try to turn that casual friendship into a more serious one by opening up, and sometimes this is a great opportunity.
Asking for help is hard, and getting too specific about what kind of help you need can feel even harder, but even the people in your life who know you best can’t read your mind. If you’re having a hard time, and thinking you’ll do better reaching out and asking for help, sitting down and making a short list of exactly what might help you out – anything from a more general “please don’t ask me about,” a certain subject, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready,” to the more specific, “I need to take a break from cooking at night until things quiet down at work” – can help whoever it is you’re asking for help figure out the best way to support you. If you don’t know what will help, that’s something you can say, too, and it will help whoever you’re talking to get a better picture of what you’re dealing with.
Give a little to get a little
The strongest support system is one that’s mutually supportive. This can be tricky in moments when you’re the person who needs help, but it’s important to remember that by sharing vulnerability, you are offering friends, family, and others the chance to feel more open to sharing their own vulnerabilities or insecurities. Maybe you have that one friend who acts like a superhero, and always seems to be completely on top of things, even when their life is full of challenges and changes. It can be hard to feel comfortable sharing when you’re having trouble with a friend like that – but if you hide it every time you’re having trouble, they may feel the same way about you.
Asking for help can feel selfish, but everyone needs help at some point. If you make a point of reminding the people in your life that you’re committed to being there for them in the best way you can when it’s their turn, you’re offering the chance to deepen your relationship. Actively listening to what’s going on in the lives of the people in your support network, and doing your best to offer the kind of support they need isn’t just offering that chance, it’s taking an active part in maintaining and developing that relationship.
Think outside the box
Your support system doesn’t have to just consist of people you already know. For one thing, depending on why or how you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, talking to a therapist or looking for a support group can be a great place to get started, especially if you’re not sure how to bring the subject up with the people in your life already. Taking a step like this can make whatever you’re coping with feel more real – and sometimes that’s exactly what you need, as a reminder that your feelings are valid.
You also don’t need to talk to everyone in your life about everything that’s going on in your life. If opening up a big conversation about how you’re feeling seems out of reach, try just asking for help in a simple way. A friend may be willing to help you out if you ask them to carpool to get your toddler to dance class. Your sister may be perfectly happy to take the reins on planning the next family event.
- “For friends and family members.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 26 2017. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members.
- “What is postpartum depression?” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, March 2017. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression.