Social Support for Recovery

Posted by Emily Beinecke on

As I sat around the table at the Friendsgiving that we hosted this past weekend, I listened as three of my friends described a dinner they had recently organized together. The three of them had each independently considered rain-checking the dinner date on account of feeling particularly down earlier that day. In the end, they all decided to hold themselves accountable to one another and carry on with dinner as planned. At dinner, they each quickly admitted to hitting low points earlier that day, and discovered that the collective commiseration led to a cathartic series of conversations during the evening.

Upon listening to this reflection, I realized that everyone sitting around the table at Friendsgiving had put their phones out of reach while we listened to this story. Whether or not this was intentional, it led to an open environment of communication in which each person’s words were truly heard. I cannot stress enough how important this experience was in terms of my productivity for the following week. Because true listening requires focus with the intent to understand, it helped to create some head space in much the same way that meditation does.

So, socializing itself is not always sufficient when done without the intent to listen and understand one another. Research suggests that being imbedded within a supportive social network, where one’s sense of self-efficacy is bolstered through communication, lends itself to creating a sense of resilience in an individual. Resiliency, in turn, is a key factor that contributes to recovery following stressful circumstances, according to Van Kessel et al. (2014).

Quick tips for developing and maintaining meaningful connections…

MAKE DATES

In the same way that you set up weekly sessions with a strength coach or therapist, try finding a night that works for you and another friend or two or five and make it a weekly or monthly gathering! This will help to create a collective habit amongst members of your social network. Accountability is strengthened when we feel beholden to someone else's sense of connectedness to the same goal – much like I discovered was the case between my friends.

LISTEN

Remember that social integration and communication only exists when true listening is involved. There is a wonderful Ted Talks from Celeste Headlee that you need to check out if you haven’t already (see below). Part of her thesis is that in the new age of technology and short-circuited attention spans, our skill of listening has dulled over time. Though we have mastered the game of looking as though we are listening, the truth is we get distracted when trying to listen and often times have conversations that turn into collective monologues where we simply reply with barely related stories. Headlee sites Stephen Covey who stated, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

    Because we are able to speak at a rate of 225 words per minute, but able to listen to up to 500 words per minute, we often automatically try to fill in those extra spaces of time spent “listening” with other thoughts of our own. Much like meditation, it is important to let those thoughts come and go as you engage with the person speaking to you. So, do your part and become a better listener! This will help to not only create better relationships, but help you out when you need the extra support during stressful times as well!


    PARTICIPATE IN MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES

    This does not include any amount of screen time! Put your phones away, and avoid going to the movie theater. Find ways to go out into your community and participate in activities that help the common good. Whether it is volunteering at a local food bank or homeless shelter, social cohesion amongst members of communities has shown to help develop resilience to symptoms of anxiety and depression in groups and in individuals.
      In-person interactions with the people we value are extremely important to our sense of self and our overall wellbeing. So, go ahead and get face-time with friends! Or spend time helping at an organization you’ve been meaning to check out! No matter what, make sure to keep an open mind and practice the skill of listening, so that you too can be engaged in the process of your own – and your peers’ – mental health recovery.
      Recover Think

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