Our ancestors survived all the threats they faced, including large predators armed with deadly claws and sharp teeth, because they lived in packs. Everyone needed the tribe to survive. We still do today.
It is no surprise that the effects of societal dysfunction in the United States are amplified among black women.
Linda Blount, President of Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI), says that her organization found that recent inequalities and injustices have compounded the stress black women experience and can no longer be ignored.
"The experiences black women have to deal with, often by themselves, are overwhelming even the most introverted who believe they can handle it," she says.
A recent study published in Human Nature journal found that more than any other racial group or gender in the United States, black women are the most likely to internalize stress resulting from societal injustices and inequalities.
A report by the Center for Disease Control supports this finding. The consequences of learned internalization of problems are why the life expectancy of black women is three years shorter than that of white women. However, with a few proactive steps, this can be alleviated if women can stop struggling alone and instead grow loving support systems.
If you are a black woman, stress and loneliness can literally kill you and your infant if you try to bear it on your own. Here are ten ways you can grow a support system to help you get through tough times and live a healthier, longer life.
1. Admit That You Need Help
The black community glorifies strong, black, independent women. This does not mean getting help is a sign of weakness. The first step in building a strong support system is recognizing when you need a helping hand.
You must be willing to get help from friends, family, and even strangers when you are in over your head. You may have to repeatedly tell yourself that getting help is human and that your life will be more comfortable when you open it up to those willing to help you.
2. Know the Areas in Your Life in Which You Need the Most Help
It may sound straightforward, but you may still struggle alone (even with help available) unless you are first completely honest with yourself. Take the time to meditate over which areas in your life you need emotional or material support in. For instance, if your relationship just fell apart, you may need someone to listen and keep you company.
3. Reach Out to the People in Your Support Network
Identify the people you trust and can rely on as you build a support network. Consider your family members, friends, coworkers, and people you interact with often. These are the individuals you should have at the core of your support group.
You should not need to have a reason to reach out to people in your support group. Strengthen your relationship with them by taking the initiative and nurturing the connections with regular communication. Hang out with them, share memes, and watch movies together. Most importantly, do not ignore those who reach out to you; they may need you as much as you need them.
4. Be Yourself and Communicate Openly
Open and honest communication is the key to growing a loving support system. Be polite and clear about what you need and what you feel or are going through. As a biological and emotional being, you may feel bad at first about making a straightforward request, but it is the best way to build a social network.
Remember that your support group cares about you, and saying you are fine when they feel you are not may only push them away.
5. Share Your Plans With the Support Group
So, you lost your job, what next? Perhaps you are going through a divorce; where do you plan to settle after moving out?
It is challenging to plan for life after a crisis, but this is something you must do. Luckily, you do not need to execute the plan alone when you have a support group to help you. Open up and share your plans, then seek input from others in your group who have gone through or witnessed a similar crisis. Crises will come and go — you should not be defined by them but by how you deal with them.
6. Show Gratitude for the Help
People always enjoy doing things for their loved ones. But it is the gratitude they get back that removes any doubt or feelings of awkwardness. Expressing genuine gratitude when someone helps you will strengthen your bond and encourage them to continue helping you and other people.
Even when you do not feel comfortable about the assistance you get, you must appreciate the gesture if it comes from the right place.
7. Do Not Over-Rely on One or Two People for Help
Do not lean too heavily on one or two people in your support group. Even friends and family can quickly get tired if you ask for help too often. It is a good idea to have many people in your support group so that you can spread your requests for assistance among them. For example, if you are involved in an accident, you can ask one friend to watch your pet and another to keep you company while you recover.
8. Set and Communicate Your Boundaries
No two relationships are the same. People in your support group are different and will support you in different ways. One way to keep your relationships healthier is to know how you can help each other and to what extent. Boundaries are essentially expectations two people have for each other. This is important for preventing misunderstandings or resentment and nurturing mutual respect instead.
9. Make New Friends and Connections
You can spur growth in your support system by adding new people with whom you have things in common. The surest way to make new meaningful connections is being active in your community. When you join clubs, participate in social events, and volunteer to good causes, you will meet like-minded people you can add to your support system.
10. Be Available to Help Back
Despite what you may be going through, there is always someone having it worse. Pay attention to the people around you, especially those in your support group. Then lend a helping hand when you can. Ask your friends, family, and coworkers how you can help and make it clear that you will be there when they need you.
Sometimes people would rather struggle alone rather than ask for help, just like you might. Learn to observe the behaviors of the people in your support group and reach out when you feel a member could use help — even if it’s just a hug or a listening ear. You get help by giving help.
A report that analyzed data from over 70 studies showed that loneliness could increase a person's risk of death by as much as 32%. Having a loving support group is a priceless remedy that every black woman could use. Do not struggle alone; use these ten ideas to build a strong and loving support group and lead a healthier longer life.