Natural therapeutic supports are the relationships and social activities that occur in our natural environments such as in the community, work, and school. These supports provide natural assistance and bolstering. They not only create a sense of belonging and empowerment, but they also increase our engagement with life.
Formal therapeutic supports, in contrast, are supports that are usually paid for and take place with a professional, such as therapy. Therapy provides a space to learn about ourselves, learn about our relationships, and heal.
We are all keenly aware of how disruptive the pandemic has been in our everyday lives. One of the casualties of the pandemic is the loss of natural therapeutic support. Our world has shrunk and with that, many people lost connection to their communities and their natural support systems. We were dealing with a global crisis that left us feeling alone, uncertain, and fearful, and furthermore, we became disconnected from the very communities that brought meaning and support to our lives. Our stress increased, and our natural supports diminished, taking a toll on our mental health. It's no wonder that as many people lost their natural supports they began to seek out more formal support such as therapy. As we are entering our third year in this crisis, we are being reminded of the incredible resilience of humans as we continue to acclimate to the changes the pandemic has imposed on us, while finding ways back to living fully. Let’s consider a few ways to re-establish or cultivate natural therapeutic supports:
Engage in hobbies! Whether you’re returning to an old hobby or working to develop a new hobby, this can be a great place to start when working to build natural supports. Perhaps you’re interested in picking up a new exercise, learning chess, joining a book club, gardening, or woodworking - the options are endless! Choose something that fits your needs and your available resources such as time and finances. Look for communities with similar interests. These communities can either be held online or in person.
Find ways to socialize with colleagues, neighbors, or family. These are folks we tend to engage with on some level day-to-day but may have missed those natural opportunities to connect during the pandemic - we don’t have a water cooler or break room on Microsoft Teams. If you have kids spend time at the neighborhood park; maybe organize an outdoor gathering for you and your colleagues, or set up a family zoom next Sunday with your relatives who live out of state.
Consider your values and let those be your guide to building community support. For instance, faith, nature, volunteering, sobriety, or mindfulness are all examples of common values that can be a great starting place when considering building a community.
Meet-ups are a great way to meet new people who may have similar interests as you. Check-out the many Houston area meet-ups here: https://www.meetup.com/cities/us/tx/houston/
As noted above, the pandemic has been a barrier to engaging with our natural supports, but for many people, there are other obstacles that prevent them from utilizing their communities. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles can make engaging in the very supports we need feel like an insurmountable task - it's not as simple as just joining a book club or starting a new hobby. Furthermore, it can feel invalidating and shaming to be told to just do something, when that very thing feels impossible. If this rings true for you, know that therapy can be a starting place to better understand what gets in the way of building supports and help you develop tools to feel more empowered to engage with your communities.