Updated: Jan 16
In a world where we are told to stay indoors and stay safe, it’s no wonder that people are finding it difficult to connect with others around them and maintain strong support networks. For many, their social lives will have been turned upside down and without the regular social interactions that come with a busy working environment, it’s understandable that people may soon feel isolated and lonely.
In this article, we are going to be discussing ways in which you can strengthen your existing support network, develop new connections, and create opportunities to help alleviate loneliness. There is also PowerPoint presentation at the bottom of the blog which contains further information.
Why We Need Support Networks
Support networks look different to each person and can vary in size and variety. Some might have a wide support network of family and friends that span the globe, while others will have a smaller group that is limited to their household. Support networks are not simply about the quantity, but rather the quality. In a world where we have seen our lives turned upside down, it is important to have someone to talk to, to connect with and to discuss your feelings with so that they can provide support and a more balanced viewpoint. Without this support network, you open yourself up to an increased likelihood of isolation and loneliness that can impact your mental health.
Who Is in Your Support Network?
Your support network can be made up of anyone you like, although most commonly it is the people you have the strongest connection to. This could be (although not limited to) your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your friends, your neighbours, your work colleagues to name but a few. These are your “go-to-people” when times are hard, they are the people you would ask their opinion of a situation, ask to help you in a time or hardship or simply seek advice from. Your support network may be vast or small, but in most cases, you will find you have an immediate network and a wider network, those who you would call upon instantly if something was wrong and those whose support you would use in addition to this.
How Does Your Personality Impact How You Make Friends?
Before we talk about strengthening your support network, it's worth noting that your personality plays a major part in your friendship making. There are three main factors in which this impacts, let’s take a look at them now.
Your personality type will play a part in not only the type of friends you attract but also the kind of support that will be received by those friends. For example, extraverted, confident personality types will often have many friends and acquaintances that they socialise with on a regular basis. However, it is difficult for an extravert to show vulnerability and to work at building strong connections with a few friends, often preferring the company of many. This makes building a support network a challenge that takes effort and persistence. In contrast, an introvert will be less inclined to open themselves up to new experiences and friendships, preferring to strengthen the connection with their existing support network.
Level of Effort
In order to build friendships, you need to put the effort in. Not just to create new friendships, but also to maintain them. As previously mentioned, a support network is only effective when it has a collection of high-quality relationships with it to help support one another. You need to ensure that you commit enough effort to find friends and maintaining friendships.
Social Anxiety Levels
It is no surprise that given what we have been through over the last year that social anxiety is on the increase. Social anxiety is the term given to a feeling of overwhelm that people encounter when they are put into social situations that they feel uncomfortable in. The physical symptoms include a quickened heartbeat, dizziness, trembling, nausea, muscle tension and sweating. If you find that you suffer from social anxiety, then there are ways that you can still make friends and maintain friendships without triggering this anxiety. We will discuss these below, however, if you feel that your social anxiety is becoming a problem in your life then there are additional support groups that you’ll find at the end of this article.
Tips for Maintaining Existing Friendships
The quickest way to build on your support network is to strengthen what you already have. Maintaining existing friendships in a time when many social activities are banned can be difficult, so utilising what social benefits we still have is imperative. Here are some tips for maintaining existing friendships and strengthening support networks.
Keep It Regular
Where possible, try to keep in touch with your friends on a regular basis. This could be a quick text every week to touch base or it could be a regular catch up over a coffee. Try to keep it regular and make sure that you put as much effort into supporting your friends as they do supporting you.
Make Use of Technology (check 0ut slides of the presentation at the bottom of the blog)
It’s not always safe or easy for us to venture out, so instead, make use of technology to help catch up with your friends. Text regularly, video call or email often so that you can stay in touch with your friends even when you can’t go out to see them.
Create Predictable Meetups
One very effective way of maintaining friendships is to create predictable meetups. These can include things like weekly walks, monthly meals out, or even a weekly quiz night on zoom! These predictable meetups will soon become part of your routine and will be events that you will be able to look forward to.
Ideas for Making New Friendships
While the idea of making new friends might seem impossible to you right now, it is important that we make the most of the opportunities we have available to us and continue to grow our support network. Here are some ways that you can make new friends while staying safe.
Get Out of The House
Getting out of the house and into society is a great way to interact with others and opens up opportunities to make friends. Whether it’s visiting the library on a regular basis, spending time in the local coffee shop or simply walking the dog at busier times of day, you will come into contact with people on a more regular basis which in turn will give you more of an opportunity to find and make friends.
Utilise Apps and Websites
There are some brilliant apps and website available that can help connect people with similar interests or geographical locations. Websites such as meetup.com will provide you with a wealth of groups and gatherings that will be happening in your area and will help you to find like-minded people. Other apps such as Nextdoor, Patook and Friender are all apps that help you to connect with others that are looking for friendship.
Join A New Group
Joining a new group will help you to connect with those who share a passion or interest and therefore a strong friendship is more likely to occur. There are millions of different societies, organisations and community-led groups that cater for all sorts of interests from walking to reading to religion.
Reconnect with Old Friends
Now might be a good time to think about those friends that you have lost touch with. Reconnecting with those who you have lost touch with over the years can be a fantastic way to not only build a “new” friendship but also to relive fun times and remember why you became friends in the first place.
Organisations to Reach Out To
If you ever feel that you can’t reach out to your support network, then there are always local and national support organisations that can help you. Here is a list of helpful resources that are designed specifically to help support you through any issue or crisis you may be going through. They are trained to listen and offer non-judgemental, confidential support so don’t suffer in silence. Please reach out.
· Contact Support Groups - https://www.communityni.org/organisation
· Aware NI – https://aware-ni.org/online-support-groups
· The Samaritans – 116 123 (over 18s)
· Lifeline – 0808 808 8000 (all ages)
· Silverline – 0800 470 8090 (over 55 years)
· Calm – https://www.thecalmzone.net/
· Mindwise – 02890 248006
· The Mix – 0808 804 4994 (under 25s)
· The Base – Drop in Centres - http://www.northerntrust.hscni.net/services/day-opportunities-service/base-drop-in-centres/
· Childline (under 18 years) https://www.childline.org.uk/
Below is the PowerPoint presentation that I delivered. It is so important at this time to stay connected with people who are on their own. Loneliness can affect people's mental health.
So please utilise the information on this blog & presentation. Drop me a message to let me know if you use any of the information or strategies.
Employability Trainer & Career Coach
Pesonal Development Books: www.donnancoachingservices.com/shop