Social Support

Is there anyone in your life you can reach out to when you need to talk to someone?
Is there someone you can rely on if you need a helping hand?
Is there someone you can call when you have good news to share?

Have there been times in your life, when you searched online for information on how to handle a particular issue, reached for the phone to talk to someone when you had a bad day, or accepted help from someone when you felt overwhelmed? We all, at one time or another, and particularly in times of stress, look for ways to ameliorate stress and negative feelings. Social support can help to manage stress and we all need a good social support network. There are, however, different ways in which our support system can be helpful and it’s important that we learn how to ask for the type of support that we want/need at any given moment. For example, having a listening ear from an empathic friend feels different from getting advice from a friend who is an active problem-solver. We may feel overwhelmed when the support does not match what we need at that moment. Understanding the type and/or amount of social support we need at any given time is an important skill to have and helps us to have our needs met more effectively and efficiently.

Types of social support
• Informational Support: provides advice, suggestions, and information to help you problem-solve or explore potential next steps that may work well. For example, reaching out to your doctor to get information related to your medical condition or reaching out to someone who has previously lost their job for tips on coping with the changes.
• Emotional Support: offers empathy, trust, warmth, care, and nurturance. Taking into consideration your emotional wellness, listening to your concerns or challenges, allowing you to express your feelings and emotions, or providing you with physical comfort (e.g. hugs or a pat on the back). For example, reaching out to a friend who you can confide in and express your concerns to, without being judged.
• Practical/Instrumental Support: offers tangible aid and direct ways of support. For example, someone who can take an active stance to assist with specific tasks or responsibilities, helping with chores, or providing transportation. This kind of support helps to ease some of the daily stressors you may experience.
• Companionship/Esteem Support: provides a sense of social belonging and engages with you in shared social or self-care activities. For example, someone who would join you in different activities, including going for a walk, taking a yoga class, or watching a movie together. It could also be someone who reminds you of your strengths or let you know that they believe in you.

How to utilize your social support system?
Many people in your life can offer social support. These can include your parents, spouse or partner, children, siblings, other family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, health professionals, religious or social support groups, and sometimes even strangers. Different people may offer different types of support, so it is very likely that you will need to rely on different people for different types of support. Before reaching out for support, you may want to take a moment for self-reflection and think about what you need to feel supported and empowered.
•  What would be most helpful?
•  What types of support do I need?
•  What type of support am I most comfortable with receiving?
•  Who can I reach out for the support I need?
•  Am I comfortable with asking for support?

After reflecting on your needs, tell the person exactly what he or she can do to support you. You might think, “If my partner/friend really knows me, he or she will know how to help me.” The problem is that your partner/friend cannot read your mind. By waiting for them to offer their support is not the best way to approach your social support system and might lead you to feel frustrated for not getting the types of support you need. Be specific, clear, and concrete when you ask for what you need so your support system is more likely to provide you with exactly what the support that matches your needs. Similarly, do not assume that you know what types of support your partner, friends, or others need, it is always best to check-in with them.

Social support is associated with increased psychological and physical well-being. Many may find it hard to ask for help or to utilize social support system during difficult times. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength. Just imagine that if your loved one or close friend is in need of help, would you rather them reach out for support or isolate themselves and face the issues themselves? When you are reaching out for social support, you are allowing people in your life to have the opportunity to extend their help and feel that their help is valued.

Written by:
Dr. Ooi Ting Huay
Clinical Psychologist

SACAC Counselling

ACT and Uncertain Times

ACT is an apt acronym for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which broadly sits under the umbrella of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT).

Someone remarked to me recently that they were surprised by how many different kinds of Anxiety had passed through their lives recently. They are clearly not alone in that – to catalogue all the things that we could be anxious about here in November 2020 could take longer than counting the grains of sand on a beach, or stars in the sky. Traditional CBT seeks to create a dialogue between oneself and the Worries that may stop by, settle in or have taken up permanent residence. It asks us to consider each thought in the light of helpful or unhelpful thinking patterns, find ways to separate and identify them – are they (to name just a few) ‘castrophizing’, ‘black and white thinking’, ‘making mountains out of molehills’ are they ‘predicting the worst’??? Or are they one of the other many ways that we have identified that our mind works to understand and make a narrative of its experiences (past and present)?

ACT however, is less concerned with disputing, refuting, looking for evidence for or against the thoughts, it does not want to debate or generally struggle against thoughts. ACT holds that Anxiety is both useful, necessary and an inbuilt survival necessity. Worry and anxieties may in fact be helpful, if we can be curious about thoughts, it might be that even the most painful thoughts can have something useful to say. Dr. Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap) has outlined some ideas for questions to ask ourselves when Anxiety shows up in order to pay attention with openness and curiosity.

“Is/are this/these thought/s …
• alerting me to something important, I need to address?
• reminding me of something that requires preparation, planning, or action?
• reminding me of important values and goals?
• reminding me to be compassionate to myself or others?
• reminding me about my behavior or attitude?
• alerting me to potential threats and risks I need to prepare for?
• guiding me towards the life I want?
• reminding me how I want to treat myself or others?
• reminding me what I want to stand for (or stand against) in the world?
• alerting me to things I need to do differently?

If there is something useful in the thought/s showing up, let’s take that on board, and let it hold into values-guided action. But if there’s nothing useful, let’s simply acknowledge these thoughts are here, and allow them to come and stay and go in their own good time, while we give our energy and attention to what’s important.”

Often in struggling against, trying to distract from, alleviate the pain or distress humans find themselves engaging in behavior that takes them further from the values and the things that are important to them. This may make itself know through alcohol or other addictions, compulsive behaviours, suicidal ideations, self harm or many other ways of coping. Rather that attempting to avoid, minimize or distract from painful thoughts – ACT attempts to help people hold an anchor, if needed and at other times to live alongside and make room for the distressing feelings and allow the thoughts to come and go; knowing that like the weather it will come and it will go – and it will change without us needing to struggle against it.

ACT is a practical and experiential therapy, the above ideas about unhooking from painful, distressing or anxious thoughts are just part of the model that is utilized by many therapists today and has been identified as one of the gold standard talking therapy treatments for Anxiety and Depression in clinical research.

Dr Russ Harris

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
SACAC Counselling