Author: Dr Jo Baldwin
If you’re like many of the women I know, you are strong and capable. Most of the time you are self-reliant and just get on with life. But every now and then you need a helping hand, or a sounding board or even a shoulder to cry on. Am I right?
And that’s absolutely fine – you’d be superhuman otherwise! In fact in order to thrive we need connection with other people. Without that there can be a real sense of isolation. Studies show that isolation and loneliness have been linked to a negative impact on health equivalent to that of smoking, obesity, high blood pressure or alcoholism. That’s quite shocking, isn’t it?
The associated stress when you’re facing down every challenge and decision all alone, results in damage to your immune and cardiac systems. Lack of support also reduces your motivation to maintain healthy habits and results in you taking longer to recover from illness or injury.
So whenever you think you have to grit your teeth and figure out a problem by yourself or wear multiple different hats to keep everything running smoothly, think again. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help or support – I’d say it’s essential.
And it’s not just a case of avoiding the negatives, there are so many positives to be gained when you have a strong support network around you. Connection with other people increases the levels of the feel-good hormones in your system, such as oxytocin and dopamine. These boost the immune system and reduce stress hormones. So you can see that having support is vital to health and well-being, but it also helps you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Having people to rely on for advice, encouragement and guidance fosters a sense of belonging, which is one of our fundamental human needs. It means we don’t have to carry all the strain and the worries alone. Don’t think it’s a sign of weakness to reach out for help – you might just find people in a similar situation and you can share the load and help each other out.
There are certain situations and times in life where we need more support than usual. For example transitions from education to work, promotion at work or changing job role, new location after a house move and the transition into parenthood – they don’t supply a manual with newborn babies!
So how does your support network look? Have you ever even given this any thought? Maybe you have a go-to person but you’ve become over-reliant on them. They can’t be expected to fulfil all the needs. Having a diverse mix of people means you can benefit from differing points of view and different expertise, dependent on the situation.
I take my clients through an exercise which looks at how well supported they feel in four key areas of life; love and relationships, health and well-being, vocation and career, wealth and finances. Think of these as the pillars upon which you stand so you can be the best version of you, fulfilling your role in life. If things aren’t going so well in one of these areas it’s like having a wobbly table leg. When two or more areas get wobbly, your platform is now really unstable and it’s hard to maintain your role. The stabilising factor here is like having a fifth table leg. It’s your network. Who can you turn to for help, advice or guidance?
For example, if work is going well and you’re on target for promotion, but your relationship is rocky and you’ve also had some health problems, you may need emotional support and some practical help at home.
So, what different forms of support are there?
This could be other mums who could help out with the school run – a reciprocal arrangement often works well. Maybe it’s hiring a cleaner so that your time is freed up to focus on what you do best. This could work out to be cost-effective even though you have to pay for this support.
Advice & Expertise
You aren’t expected to know everything, but what you need might be someone else’s zone of genius. In some cases, you need to pay for this level of help, but think about who you know, or is there a friend of a friend that fits the bill?
These are people who are further along the path than you and may be prepared to give you a hand up. They’ve been where you are now. This is usually in relation to work and your career progress. Approach them with questions demonstrating your enthusiasm and ability. You can benefit from their experience and wisdom.
These are people who open doors for you by making introductions to the right people. They have contacts who can be helpful for you to know. They invite you to events. This isn’t the old boys network – you still have to demonstrate your ability, passion and drive.
If you have a goal in mind and you commit to some actions, who could help you stay on track? Who will encourage you, yet challenge you to ensure you do what you say you will? This can apply to various aspects of life – business, exam prep, fitness or weight loss and therefore different types of people could support you here; a friend, a personal trainer, a teacher or a coach.
If you’re lucky, parents or grandparents may have literally invested money on your behalf to commence your journey to financial wealth. Other support in this respect might be guidance from financial advisors. Another form of investor is if your company funds further training to help ensure your career progression. They are investing in you as an asset to their company.
They know you well enough to give open and honest advice. They can provide practical help, general advice, be a sounding board and offer emotional support. Beware – not every friend will work in every situation though! There may be one special friend who will drop everything to be there for you in an emergency.
I encourage clients to consciously look at their network to see where they do have support and where it’s currently missing. We brainstorm ‘what if’ scenarios and look for the possible people and resources that could help. Where there are gaps we consider how to foster and maintain relationships.
So if you want to consciously create your support network look around and think outside of the box. Who do you know who could be an asset? Friends and family, friends of friends, colleagues, neighbours, community forums, therapists, counsellors, coaches, experts, teachers…
Key takeaway points:
- Get clear on who you could turn to and what type of support they could offer. Remember it’s not always the same person.
- Creating this network is a means of strengthening your position to develop your role so that you can achieve and fulfil your potential rather than floundering when things get wobbly.
- Look for people who energise and inspire you rather than those who drain your energy or lower your mood.
- Keep in mind the health and wellbeing benefits to being connected rather than staying isolated.
- Be prepared to share your own expertise, insights and guidance. It’s a two way street!
- This takes time and effort. As human beings, we need to know, like and trust each other before a true connection can be forged.