Many kinds of people can be a part of your support network. Family, friends, partners, pets, neighbors, teachers, coaches, and clergy can all be part of your personal support system. A mental health clinician or a specific support group can also be a part of your support network. As you go through life, you will often gain new people in your support network, while others will fall away. Having a support system, no matter who it consists of, has been shown to be correlated with higher levels of well-being, and can even reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
With recent advances in technology, it has become easier to maintain friendships and relationships over long distances, if you are privileged enough to have access to this technology. It is simple to send a quick text to a friend living across the country, or even to FaceTime a partner who is living in another country. Although all of this technology does not meet our basic human requirements for physical touch, having a long-distance support system can still be hugely beneficial and supportive for people, especially if they at least have a small local support system as well.
Despite the distance, friends, family, and partners who live far away can be extremely important and supportive in people’s lives. When going through a difficult time, people who live far away can be just as helpful as someone who lives next door to you. If you are going through a break up, a health problem, a job loss, or any other difficulties, long-distance supportive people can still text you, call you, or video chat with you. Even if you are in opposite time zones, and they cannot text you back until hours later, there is still a benefit to having a more rational conversation after you have calmed down. They may not be able to personally bring you soup, but if they want to do something more than talk, they can send you a gift online, order a pizza for you, or even utilize UberEats.
There are many things that factor into whether or not someone should be part of your support system, and distance is barely one of them. Some questions you should ask yourself when determining who is part of your support network are, “how do I feel when I talk to this person?” “Does this person take my thoughts and feeling into account?” “Does this person have my best interests at heart?” “Does this person celebrate my successes with me?” and, “Does this person encourage me to be better than I was yesterday?”
As you begin to ask these questions about the people in your life, you will start to notice that some people are more supportive than others. That’s okay! It doesn’t mean that you should cut out anyone who does not meet all of these criteria. No one will be perfectly supportive all the time. However, if there is someone who makes you feel bad about yourself consistently, doesn’t take your thoughts and feelings into account, doesn’t have your best interests at heart, and doesn’t celebrate with you or encourage you, you may want to rethink that relationship.
Having a support network is important, just as it is important to be a supportive person. Support goes both ways; there will be times when you need more support, and there will be times when your loved ones need more support from you. It is important to look at these interactions objectively, to make sure that you are not taking too much from your support network, and to make sure they are not taking too much either.
One way to easily be a supportive person is simply to ask your friend, family member, or partner what they need when they are going through a difficult time. By rephrasing the common question “What can I do?” to “What do you need right now?”, you can help another person figure out what they may be needing in that moment, rather than forcing them to think of ways in which you may be able to help them. The question “What do you need right now?” puts the focus back on that person, rather than changing the focus to you.
It may also be helpful to ask if the person wants you to simply listen, wants support, or wants advice. Too often, when trying to be helpful, people tend to offer up unsolicited advice. Therefore, if you are trying to be a supportive person, you can easily ask what your loved one is looking for when they are talking to you.
All of these tips and tricks work regardless of distance. A long-distance relationship of any kind will be tricky, but modern technology has definitely allowed us to seek support from friends and partners who are not even in the same country as us. When people move away, it no longer means that the friendship or relationship is over. In fact, long-distance relationships can have their own unique benefits, such as an ability to travel more!