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Social Support for Resiliency

The reason I am such an advocate for building social resiliency to overcome anxiety is because I have experienced first hand how it can help us bounce back from adversity. After I separated from active duty I had a really difficult time re adjusting into civilian life. I started experiencing some depression and anxiety and developed some coping skills that were not the best. Finally I ended up meeting some friends at work that encouraged me to start exercising and running in races. I went to therapy, joined a gym, started eating healthier and signed up for my first 5k. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in forming those positive relationships with others and creating healthier lifestyle habits, I was finding a new purpose for myself after the military. Not only did those friends encourage me to accomplish new goals, but they were also there for me when I was struggling and needed someone to talk to. Eventually I was able to get my anxiety symptoms reduced and back on track with some new goals that I had set.

A lot of times anxiety can stem from unknowns. I like to always say that depression lives in the past and anxiety lives in the future. When we’re unsure about what is going to happen in the near or even far future, for example COVID, it is very natural and even normal to feel anxious. We always need a certain level of anxiety in our lives; it’s what keeps us focused on our goals and helps us accomplish tasks by certain deadlines. It’s when this anxiety starts to affect our ability to function that it becomes a problem. For example, you might feel a little nervous before a big event that you’re hosting because you want things to go well. You take a few deep breaths, and let that nervousness motivate you to make sure you plan everything out, have enough food and drinks, and keep the event flowing throughout the night. Now let’s take that good anxiety and amplify it to it’s opposite. You are now spiraling into a web of thoughts of “what ifs” and “end of the world scenarios.” Your fight or flight kicks in and you freeze, not knowing what to do. Ultimately you let this anxiety get so bad that you now don’t even have an event at all, and having to cancel the event, or worse, people show up to an empty venue. See the difference? Anxiety is on a continuum, and as long as you’re able to keep it at a level that makes things manageable you are doing just fine.

Another way to tell if your anxiety is becoming debilitating is to pay attention to physical symptoms. Anxiety can show up in other ways inside our bodies, as a signal that things are becoming to overwhelming. Examples can include shakiness, sweating, racing heart, difficulty breathing, tension in the muscles, or it can even result in fainting in the worst cases. Paying attention to your body’s cues can help you understand when it might be important to step back and exercise a little self care to get those stress and anxiety levels back down to a healthy level.

Social resilience to me means that I know that I have a support system ready for me when I am feeling alone, afraid or just need a little extra encouragement to continue pursuing my goals. Now, this can get a little tricky, because often times we all have that friend or two that we know is not helping us build resilience. The important thing is that we recognize this, and we don’t necessarily have to end the relationship, however being more intentional about not allowing those people to slow us down or hinder our progress. You’ll know who really has your best interest at heart because their friendship is unconditional.

One thing that I really focus on with my clients is not only developing a social support network, but also developing those great coping skills that will help with that recovery. Because, although social supports are great to have, they are unfortunately not always a guarantee. One thing I like to ask is “If you were to lose your entire support system tomorrow, what would keep you going?” I know that sounds a bit drastic, but it’s important to understand that relying on others 100% of the time can sometimes set us up for failure. Our friends and family do have their own lives and may not always be available when we need them. In those cases, what can you do to ensure that you keep moving forward?

What are your thoughts on building resilience? Comment below!

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