July 3, 2015 in Stress and Coping
By Dr. Jill Langer
“I’m so stressed!” We say and hear this so often, being stressed can seem inevitable and we forget the dangerous effects brought on by poorly managed stress. The American Psychological Association has long recognized the importance of understanding and mitigating the impact of stress on our emotional and physical health. They have published research on stress each year since 2007. This research has shown both a strong relationship between stress and negative impacts on our health as well an important factor that affects both: Social and emotional support.  
The APA survey findings show that having someone in your life who you can ask for emotional support is correlated with having lower stress levels. 
In the survey, respondents lacking emotional support were more likely to: 1. Experience increasing stress levels, 2. State that they did not make any lifestyle changes to help their stress and 3. Feel sad or depressed due to their stress. Yet 21% of Americans say they have no one to turn to for emotional support. Not having emotional support was reported more often by those in lower-income households, those who are parents, those who are millennials. Of all Americans, 14% say they “could have used a lot more emotional support in the past year.” This was especially true for women who reported a higher sense of loneliness and isolation due to stress than men. These results inform us of the importance of emotional support in mitigating the effects and stress and also highlight the difficulty many of us have finding this support.
Emotional support is the belief that we are loved and cared for and that help is available from others when we need it. It is related to the quality and intimacy of the relationships in our lives currently. High quality relationships involve the delicate balance of meeting our needs and those of the other person. This is called mutuality and is critical to our sense of emotional support. It requires time and energy to cultivate and maintain. I imagine you can think of relationships in your own life that leave you feeling more drained than supported. This is a sign that the relationship lacks mutuality.
Consider these questions in evaluating the mutuality of your relationships: How do you feel when and after you are with the person (drained or energized? agitated or comforted? better or worse about yourself?). Do you feel they understand, accept, and support you as you are? Do you understand, accept and support them as they are? What qualities do you admire or appreciate about them? Your answers to these questions may suggest that it is important for you to find or cultivate more supportive relationships in your life.
It is important to make finding mutually supportive relationships a priority. If we are lucky, we may have these kinds of relationships in our family. But typically we need more support than can be given by family members and even by our partners and spouses. No one person can be our “everything” and family relationships often come with their own stressors. Friendships are an important part of our support network.
We are responsible for creating our own network of support. This involves meeting and welcoming new people into our lives as well as deepening the relationships we already have. To do this, we need to make our relationships a priority. Too often in our hectic, goal-driven, over-scheduled lives, we neglect our relationships and undervalue their importance. Try making time each day for the people who are important to you and watch what unfolds. Focus on being a good support to others by really taking the time to listen to them. Let them know that their struggles and successes are important to you. Likewise, take the risk to tell them about your own struggles and allow them to support you. I bet there is at least one person you’ve been meaning to call or message but have been putting it off. Take a moment now to reach out to them and let them know you’ve been thinking of them. Set a time to meet with them in person. It’s important.