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HannaRodBlog Jun 7, 2016

5 Processes to Improve Social Wellness

How do you deal with stress? 

In our busy society, we don't always reach out to our social support networks to share the highs and lows of life. Some of us deal with stress by tuning out of life; watching hours of television, scrolling the endless pages of social media, or binging on high-carb junk foods like potato chips or ice cream. We find comfort in foods and in the mind-numbing effect of the television. Sometimes, we end up so frustrated and stressed out that we "take it out" on the people we love the most. The bottom line is that we all have stress, we all have problems, illnesses, and emotional pain in life. And we need each other. We need a shoulder to cry on. We need a person to trust with our secrets and insecurities. We crave social relationships and intimacy. We thrive in community but become depressed in isolation. 

Research shows that people who experience healthy social integration tend to live longer, heal from illness faster, are more resilient to stress, and experience more life satisfaction (Umberson & Montez, 2010).  In my last post, I discussed some of the research that demonstrates the importance of having supportive relationships in several forms, including: love relationships, familial relationships, friendships, co-worker relationships, and formal relationships with authority figures. Today, I want to discuss 5 processes that may help clients improve existing relationships, set boundaries in unhealthy relationships, and open themselves to a new way of viewing relationships. 

  1. 1.Notice. I invite you to notice the effects of your relationships with other people. Ask yourself "Do I notice feelings of trust, fulfillment, compassion, intimacy, mutual respect and caring?" Or in contrast, "Do I notice feeling anxious, experience negative thoughts, distrust, hurt, shame, manipulated, angry, or uncomfortable with other people in my life?" Realize that relationships have power to influence your wellbeing, both emotionally and physically. Take some time to get in touch with your feelings and thoughts when you are around your loved ones, friends, or other important people. 
  2. 2.Accept. It can be very difficult to observe the effects of your relationships, so we tend to put up our defenses by denying the truth of the situation to ourselves by making excuses for the patterns in our relationships so that we can hang on to those people. However, this is what causes the struggle! At this stage, clients learn to accept the unhealthy patterns In their relationships and learn to be willing to let go of relationships that are not serving them. The purpose Is to come to a place of honesty and authenticity within ourselves In order to have a safe place to start making changes. 
  3. Make space for yourself. From your place of honest acceptance, look for ways to make a safe space for you to make changes and improvements. This may require ending toxic relationships or  limiting the time you spend with the other person. If you cannot physically remove yourself from this relationship, find ways to increase your psychological space by placing boundaries on your interactions, and changing how you communicate with that person. Making space for yourself is not the same as rejecting a person, but rather it is the process of creating a safe environment for yourself in which you will be able to move towards health and vitality. You can still love the other person even from a distance as you learn to take care of yourself. 
  4. Practice compassion. Actively seek out opportunities to practice compassion for yourself and others. Some ideas for practicing compassion for yourself is to practice compassionate meditation, affirmations, self-care, self- protection (especially in abusive relationships), and self-acceptance. You can practice compassion with others by setting healthy boundaries, using healthy communication styles, helping others, volunteering, donating to causes, mentoring others, going the extra mile at work, and so on. Get creative! It is important to practice compassion with self and others in order to create a loving atmosphere into which you invite new, lasting, close, healthy, and strong relationships. 
  5. Hold relationships lightly. Like a precious gem, relationships with others are a precious gift that we are allowed to have, if only for a time. I invite you to view your relationships in the same way you would hold a sweet, little infant. Gently embrace your loved ones, but not so tightly that there is no room to grow or change. If we cling to people and become enmeshed in these relationships, we lose our own sense of identity. Realize that the struggle of clinging to something will not keep it from changing, and will not stop you from losing something. Letting go of the struggle with enmeshment in relationships allows you and your loved ones the space to change and grow with time. Express gratitude for the time you have had with your loved one, and when it is time, allow your loved one to go in peace on their journey.

Relationships are the spice of life! We need social support in order to live a balanced, successful, and vital life. We are all striving for meaning, abundance, and joy in life. I believe that practicing compassion first with ourselves, and then with others around us is the best way that we can impact struggling people all over the world. I hope you enjoyed this post! Next week, I will discuss my thoughts on the Spiritual Wellness aspect of Hettler's Six Dimensions of Wellness.

Thanks for stopping by!
Hanna Rodriguez is a counselor in training at McNeese State University, and is completing her internship at the McNeese Kay Dore Gambling Treatment Program in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is interested in viewing mental health from a wellness perspective. Read more about Hanna at:

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