In an increasingly common nuclear family set-up with hectic schedules, we often find no time for our extended family and close friends. Relationships, like anything else in life, need constant nurturing. Bonding with family and friends can be very rewarding and there is mounting evidence that people without close ties with family and friends are at high risk for all kinds of diseases; from heart disease, ulcers, cancer, and immune system disorders. Dr. Dean Ornish, a world-renowned physician, in his path-breaking best seller, "Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy", argues that the quality of our relationships can have a profound effect on our health and well-being. Close relationships can even modulate our physiological response to stress.
So, making time to nurture a support system that consists of family and friends is a wise investment. Here are some tips that will go a long way in keeping you and your loved ones humming with health and happiness!
Identify a trusted circle - we all have different sets of people in our circle from whom we draw different benefits. While some are good listeners, others can lift your spirits with their sense of humour, some are great with creative ideas and there are some who just envelop you with warmth and love. So go ahead and identify who you will turn to when in need.
Nurture your friendships - an untended garden will rarely flourish. It needs constant monitoring with the right amount of water and nutrients. Similarly, with relationships, we need to water them with love and nurture it with warmth and attention. Be there for your family and friends when they need you. Lend a patient ear and offer your unconditional support. Remember birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates. Bottom line is that you need to take time and stay in touch.
Ask for help - though asking for help may seem like an obvious and simple thing to do, it is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for many of us. It may stem from the fear of exposing your vulnerability, the fear of dependence on someone else, or the fear of being turned down. But whether we like it or not, we are all social beings and we cannot be totally independent or be afraid to show our fears. Turn to people whom you can trust with your secrets, and you will find that your problems suddenly seem more manageable.
Be there through thick and thin - celebrate the successes of your family and friends without competing for attention. When they are going through tough times, stand firm behind them with your support. There are times when we do not need unsolicited advice. Sometimes silent support is all that is needed.
Communicate your feelings clearly - keep the lines of communication open without allowing misunderstandings to creep in. If you are upset about something, state it clearly without sulking or retreating into a shell. Often people are unaware of what you are going through unless you spell it out, so don't make the mistake of assuming that they should know about your thoughts and feelings. Communication is the key.
Show appreciation - express your gratitude to them for being there for you and demonstrate it through small gestures that show them that they are an important part of your life.
Respect boundaries - sometimes, we tend to take our family and friends for granted. We take liberties and cross boundaries which causes friction in our relationships. It is important to respect their needs and feelings too. Take care not to overdo and overwhelm your family or friends with your attention and need for support. People can tire of giving support if they are called upon too often. A healthy alternative to calling on our close people is supporting ourselves. We can achieve this by finding things we love doing and taking part in those activities; these could include music, reading, carpentry, etc. This could also include indulging in self-care, where we put our needs first and actively move towards meeting them.
Steer clear of toxic relationships - in your zeal to cultivate close relationships, take care not to allow negativity to cloud your interactions. If there is someone making you feel negative about yourself or is constantly critical and draining your energy, then maybe it is time to let go of that person. People and values change, and while this does not mean that there is something wrong with either of you, it is important to recognize that the relationship is not working for either of you. It is then perfectly acceptable to minimize or eliminate toxic relationships from your life.
Do remember that your relationships need to be in place before you call on them for support. This is not to imply that you nurture them only for your benefit. Relationships are interdependent and there is always a mutual give and take. You can nurture it very easily in small ways like returning calls or emails, catching up for a coffee, chatting with the neighbour while watering your garden, remembering important days like birthdays and anniversaries, and being a good listener.
Family and friends increase your sense of belonging, security, and self-worth. They are also a valuable source of information and guidance about various things that come up in life, like where to find the right school for your children, a yoga trainer or a tuition teacher, to maybe even fashion tips and interesting job opportunities.
So, make sure you get your daily fix of Vitamin F- Stay Healthy and Live Longer!
If you would like to discuss this further or need some help or support in this or any other area, our counsellors would be happy to help.