How do you judge an athlete? Often, it is by their win-to-loss ratio. Failure is as much a part of sport as winning, and how an athlete copes with failure speaks volumes about them. Further, knowing how to deal with a loss can help sportspersons reclaim control over their lives during low periods. This involves understanding the importance of a support system, which could be family, friends and even perfect strangers.
- A support system is a network of people who can provide you with practical or emotional support. Their presence has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety,
- It is essential for all including athletes to have a trusted support system. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength,
- Find non-human supports. Plants and/or pets can be great comforts. Taking care of a pet or a plant can be rewarding and provide a sense of purpose.
What is a support system?
A support system is a network of people who can provide you with practical or emotional support. These support systems will help improve your overall health. Their presence has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. Having a support system means that you have people to rely on in times of need.
How to build a healthy support system
Everyone needs a support system, even athletes. Some may think that it is easier to do things alone and that their health is only theirs to worry about. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is important to be self-sufficient, having a support system is critical for maintaining your mental and physical health. However, you must have the right people in your corner.
Athletes usually have coaches, parents, friends and other professionals rallying around them. However, an athlete might still not get all the types of support they need. Sometimes people need a motivator for the occasional boost, or someone who understands their experiences, or maybe someone to just make them laugh.
One person may fulfil more than one need for you, and at times, some needs remain unmet despite a large group of supporters. Besides, everyone’s requirements are unique to them. It is important to identify the types of support you need and then determine if you have people in your life to satisfy each of those. You can seek out people to fill the gaps or ask those closest to you to provide additional types of support.
A good support system takes care of your mental health, as it can help you stay grounded and level-headed even in the most stressful times. Conversely, the wrong people can cause your mental health to deteriorate.
Stress, as you know, is a part of life. Most athletes are exposed to one or more stressors/challenging situations on a day-to-day basis. But there is great psychological and neurobiological variability in how athletes respond to these events.
The majority of individuals are resilient to the negative consequences of stress and a significant minority develop psychological symptoms that markedly interfere with their capacity to function.
What explains these differences? Resilience is a person’s ability to bend but not break, to bounce back, and to adapt well in the face of adversity. Some athletes are more resilient than others. Resilience is embedded in social systems. And these social systems support the adaptive psychological capacities of an individual. A large body of research has found that psychological resilience is generally fostered by environmental/caregiving conditions that are loving, emotionally responsive, consistent and reliable.
Overall, it appears that positive, high-quality social support can build resilience to stress, protect against trauma-related psychopathology, decrease the functional outcomes of trauma-induced disorders, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and lower medical morbidity and mortality.
Stress resilience might keep the HPA-axis (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis) and noradrenergic activity within an optimal range when exposed to stress. It could also end the stress response once the stressor is no longer present. Thus, to increase stress resilience, social support should enhance the ability to optimise the neurochemical stress response.
A support system can also help avoid or counter depression and anxiety and reduce stress.
How can you find the right people?
To really make strides in improving yourself or building new skills, you must ensure you have the right people surrounding you. Here are a few ways to find them:
- Join a workout group or sports team. It may lift your mood, improve your physical health and allow you to interact with others
- Train your brain to see the positives
- Review your current social circles and family relationships. Then single out the people who offer the most positive but truthful advice
- Connect with a professional or be open to the idea of asking for help when you need it and accepting that help as graciously as possible
- Try new activities alone or in groups to meet new people who may provide a positive influence
- Find non-human supports. Plants and/or pets can be great comforts. Taking care of a pet or a plant can be rewarding and provide a sense of purpose
- Create your own support area. Building our own personal support structure is essential. How do you unwind after a hard day? How do you pick yourself up when feeling down? It’s important to know how to support yourself, without relying on others. Prioritise self-care.
What are the different types of social support?
Support systems can come in various forms. You could have multiple support systems that play different roles in your lives at different times. However, all social support networks fall into one of three categories.
Chances are that what you need most from your support network is emotional support. Maybe you had a really challenging day at work/training/practise session and need someone to vent to. Or, something really good might have happened to you and you want to share the happiness and success with someone.
Bottling up your emotions and feelings can be detrimental and have a negative impact on your performance. That’s why, from a mental health standpoint, an emotional support system is incredibly beneficial.
While you might turn to some people for emotional support, there might be others who assist you with physical things. These people are your instrumental support group.
An instrumental support system is good for your mental health by bringing tangible results and actions to solve an issue. The assurance that you have people to get things done puts your mind at peace too.
The third type of support you can get is informative. These people might provide guidance, information, advice and serve as mentors. Your informational support system is crucial when it comes to making big decisions or life changes.
Depending on your social support system, some people within the group might serve different roles. They might fit into one of the above categories, multiple categories, or even all three. The most important thing to remember is that it is good to have at least one person in each of the three categories. Having a well rounded social support network can go a long way in helping you live a healthy and happy life.
Advantages of a strong support system
There are many advantages to having a strong social support network. Let’s take a look at some:
1.Increases oxytocin levels
Evidence suggests that the influence of social support on health is mediated by the neuropeptide oxytocin. Oxytocin increases trust, regulates stress, facilitates emotion recognition, increases prosocial behaviour and diminishes loneliness. Oxytocin modulates the emotional functions of the amygdala and hypothalamus. On a behavioural level, oxytocin facilitates the expression of the levels of sociality, prosocial behaviour and stress regulation.
The less stress and anxiety in our lives the healthier we are. While it is impossible to never experience stress, how you handle it can go a long way when it comes to your mental health.
Having an outlet for stress, such as venting to someone, can not only make you feel better but also help you move on from the situation faster. Here’s where a solid support system proves useful.
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3.Keeps you motivated
When you have a person or people in your life who have a vested interest in your success, they have an incentive to keep you motivated. The same holds true for athletes. People who gain from their achievements work hard to ensure they’re on track. Such people propel you closer to your goals.
It’s important for all people, athletes included, to have a trusted support system. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength.
If athletes are not getting their fundamental need for connectedness met, they will not be fulfilled personally, their motivation is likely to decrease and this can negatively affect their performance.
Athletes should be educated about the importance of and the kinds of support they need. This will help them identify the type of support they need on and off the field, and how to acquire said support.
Support can help increase happiness, decrease anxiety and enhance connectedness among athletes all of which help create positive relationships and lead to meaningful experiences in sports and life.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.