Knowing how to expand your network to support your mental health during the good times can make a huge difference during the hard ones. Let me explain. When you feel down, you need to fight the desire to isolate yourself as this will make you feel worse. Anyone who has experienced depression knows that this is a very difficult thing to do, but the right support network can be crucial to preventing isolation during the hard times.
You are the sum of the 5 people you hang out with
Even if you have a large group of friends, there are some people with whom you spend most of your time. Take a good look at them. What do you have in common?
Have you ever noticed how sometimes we pick phrases that we hear from our close friends to the point of not remembering who used it first? This is a common phenomenon, and we are all guilty of this. We become the people we spend the most time with.
Tanya Menon explains this very well at the beginning of her Ted Talk on strategies to widen your social universe:
The impact of your network in supporting your mental health
Be mindful of the influence of your friends on your mood. Some people are naturally cheery and positive and always focus on finding solutions to challenging situations. Others are naturally glass half-empty kind of people and can suck the happiness out of a room in 5 minutes.
It seems obvious but if you are having a difficult time, hanging out with the first type of people will lift you up or at least it won’t hurt. The second type of people, no matter how much you love them, should be avoided when you are not feeling great as they will take you down further.
Now that you know this, I want you to ask yourself this question: does my network support my mental health?
The issue is of course that if you are only hanging out with glass half-empty kind of people most of the time, you won’t have any positive friends to bring you up when you feel down. My suggestion would be that you consciously expand your network to support your mental health when you feel good.
And of course, I have suggestions for this which will double up with creating a lifestyle that generally helps your mental health 😉
Use your hobbies to expand your network to support your mental health
What are the things that you really enjoy doing that can help you meet new people? For example, I love hiking. A great way for me to meet new people is to join a hiking group at the weekend instead of going for a hike on my own or with a friend.
I also have a writing group, which I found on Meet-Up. Sometimes when I need motivation to get writing, I go up to London to meet with them. We write together for a couple of hours and go for coffee or lunch afterwards. It is a slightly different group of people every time, and I have met some good friends through this group.
Exercise: how to use your hobbies to expand your network
You do not currently have a hobby that would allow you to expand your network? I’ve got you. Do this exercise. This is an exercise I take my coaching clients through to help them expand their network to support their mental health.
Take a blank piece of paper. Write up all the activities you always wanted to try but never made time for. Once you have finished, ask yourself: what else would I like to try? Really spend time raking your brain for new activities to try. Add to the list activities you used to enjoy but haven’t done for a while.
For each activity, spend some time thinking about how you could do this activity while meeting new people. You like to play tennis but haven’t got anyone to play with? Join a tennis club. You like to dance? Go to Salsa classes.
And do not tell me that your hobby is so solitary that it cannot help you meet new people! The writing group I found on Meet-Up is the perfect example that even if your hobby were something you would normally do on your own, you can still use it to meet people. Meet-up is full of activities and informal meetings with people who share the same interest as you. You love reading? Join a book club. You have your own business? Go work in a co-working space.
Pick the activity you feel the most drawn to and book it. Now. If you get disappointed, try the next thing on your list.
I would suggest that you try to stick to one thing for a few weeks first before moving on to the next activity though. It can be very scary and uncomfortable the first time you try something new. That is normal, it’s called getting out of your comfort zone. But the second tie you do it, it won’t be as daunting and next thing you know you will feel like a regular and love going 😊
Speak to random people to expand your network to support your mental health
Speaking to people is one of my favourite games. In the UK, we are very good at not engaging with strangers. This is where my continental side comes into play.
I just love to strike conversations with strangers. Again, this will feels very weird and alien at first but it gets really fun when you get into it.
Very timely example, I did it this morning in the gym! This weekend I am staying with a friend away from home. This morning we went to her gym. She was showing me around some equipment I hadn’t used before, but then disappeared to the changing room, abandoning me in front of a puzzling machine. There was a guy standing a metre away from me using something else, but he just looked like he knew what he was doing. So I just waved at him and asked him if he knew this machine. We talked for a few minutes and went back to our respective workouts. Easy right?
Well you can do this anywhere at any time; supermarket, queuing for drinks at the pub, planes, train stations… I actually met a friend like that once. We were in Waterloo, waiting for our train. We started to talk about the situation; loads of trains were being cancelled. We then realised we were waiting for the same train and talked some more. Next thing you know, we chatted through the entire train journey and exchanged numbers but the time we got to our destination.
So here is your homework: try this game. Next time you are waiting for something and are bored, look around for someone next to you to speak to. Do read the body language first though! You want to be talking to people who look friendly and open to chat!
How to expand your network to support your mental health – key take aways
- Be mindful of the personality traits of your close friends
- When you are feeling down your network will either lift you up or take you down further
- Use your hobbies to make new friends – see exercise
- Speak to random people – see game
Try these simple hacks and let me know how you get on
Have you noticed the impact of your network on your mental health? What has worked well for you? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments.
This article is part of the “Growing Your Village” Blog carnival hosted by The Female CEO – Create Evolve Overcome. Here is an article I’ve recently enjoyed The Surprising Tricks to Create a Long Lasting Self-Care Routine.
And remember, happiness is a choice, and you are in charge!