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Building a Network of Support

October and November can be some of the most stressful months of the year. Summer is long gone. The holidays are in sight, but still just out of reach. The weather is starting to change. And meeting end of the year deadlines or studying for exams is probably taking up a lot of your time and energy. All these factors can bring about stress, anxiety, and overall, larger loads of work and worry. So, it’s during these fall months that building a network of support is especially important. There’s a saying that goes, “No [person] is an island”. We are, by nature, social beings that require connection and support – especially when experiencing stress. Luckily, we can create strong support systems for ourselves through a variety of sources that include helpful people and processes. Below are some tips that can help you to build your very own personal network of support:

Find a mentor

Mentorship is an incredibly effective tool in just about any field. You can find an academic mentor, a professional or career mentor, or even a personal mentor. Mentors can give you guidance on what to do or where to go, they can help you solve problems, and they can listen to you and empathize with what you’re experiencing. Mentors are usually chosen because we have something in common with them or they embody something we aspire to. If we capitalize on those connections, we can find mentors who can help meet our needs. Perhaps a teacher or faculty member at your school would be a valuable mentor. Or, someone who works in the same organization as you, or in a field that you hope to work in. Or, maybe someone who you know whose values and characteristics align with yours. Whatever reason it may be, choose a mentor who you can look to for guidance and support. 

Connect with peer mentors

Peer mentorship is a more informal relationship and includes people from different realms of your life. My peer mentors, for example, include co-workers, friends, classmates, family members, and other people who I have stayed connected to throughout the years. In general, these are people that we trust and that we can rely on. There is value in the fact that these mentors are our peers, and as such are probably going through similar situations and facing similar challenges. This offers commonality, understanding, and empathy that can lead to added support.

Find your outlet activity

Not every element of your network of support has to be a who. It can also be a what. Finding an activity that we enjoy as an outlet can be very beneficial to our wellbeing. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, having a positive distraction can help you reset and see things from a fresh perspective. All through high school, my outlet was running. When I was stressed out by my homework, I would put it down and go for a run. This allowed me to quite literally leave behind my stress and engage in something physical, enjoyable, and unrelated to my worries. I would come back feeling refreshed and could refocus. Over the years, my outlet activity has changed and now I often find myself cooking instead. Whatever you choose, having something you can do to mentally, physically, and emotionally escape stress can be a critical – and fun – part of your support network.

Be your own advocate

Often times we know what’s best for ourselves, but, for whatever reason, we don’t act on it. Or, we give great advice to others but then act in a contradictory way ourselves. I experienced this recently while in a meeting with a fellow staff member. She was telling me about how she was stressed out about her classes, on-campus job, off-campus job, social life, and other personal responsibilities. I talked to her about prioritizing her duties and reminded her to take the necessary time for self-care, eating well, and getting enough sleep. Later that night, I found myself stressing about some of those very same things. I realized that I should have listened to my own advice. Advocating for ourselves means that we are able to make ourselves and our well-being a priority. It’s great to seek help from others, but we can’t forget that we are also a key part of our support networks. Through self-advocacy, we can access support that is natural to us and that we would more than likely be willing to give to others.

See a professional

Therapists, psychologists, and counselors are all people whose jobs are to provide support to others. Talking to a professional has benefits that the rest of our network might not be able to provide. They are trained to handle sensitive issues with helpful and practiced processes, tools, and techniques that promote mental health and overall wellbeing. However, this may also come with certain reservations or worries. Some people may not feel comfortable with the idea of getting professional help, and it might not be the best fit for everyone. But it’s a relief to know that there are people whose lives are dedicated to providing support and that we can add them to our networks if we ever feel like we need extra help. And if you’re a student, these services are often available for free or reduced price at schools and colleges!

Communicate openly

This last part relates to all the other parts of a network of support. It’s so important to be open and honest and to clearly communicate your needs. If you’re struggling with something, reach out to a mentor or a peer and talk about it. If you need some space to advocate for yourself or some time to engage in an outlet activity, communicate that need. If you need to talk to a professional, reach out to one. Our networks of support are only as effective as we let them be, and the different parts of that network can only work if we communicate that we need them. Communication is the key to accessing the networks that we have built.

And the more robust we can build our networks of support, the more support we will receive. Different methods work for different people, and different challenges might best be addressed by different means. Therefore, having a broad network comprised of a variety of sources of support will help you to feel like you have the resources and access you need. Through this whirlwind of a fall season, and really throughout the year, continue to build yourself a solid network of support, and then remember to use it to help you successfully navigate through busy or stressful experiences.

*Leadership Lesson*

Tap into your support network this week – whether you feel like you need to or not. Reach out to a mentor, connect with a friend, or make time for one of your favorite activities. When we can remember to do these things regularly, we can help combat the stress and worries we might experience from work, school, and our other responsibilities. Asking for help and support might not always be easy to do, but with practice, we can build a strong foundation for ourselves that lifts us up.

Also remember that more than likely, you are a part of someone else’s support network. Dedicate time to being a resource to someone else this week. Be a good friend, lend a listening ear, give encouragement, or ask how you can help.  

*Meet the Author*

Morgan has been working with Leadership Inspirations for three years. He is a graduate of Chapman University with a B.A. in Integrated Educational Studies working towards his M.A. in Leadership Development. When he’s not at school, you can find him at Disneyland, at the beach, or hanging out with friends around LA and OC.