9. Maintaining Healthy Relationships
The What, Who and How of Social Support
We know that social support is a key element in well-being in general, and in recovering from cardiovascular events in particular. SCAD survivors can benefit from accessing social support, and from using specific skills to communicate, ask for support and get their needs met during this stressful time. Many SCAD survivors tell us that they were usually the care GIVERS, not the care RECEIVERS before their SCAD, so the idea of knowing what kind of support is needed and asking for help may be completely new skill set post-SCAD. This module will guide you through the WHAT, WHO and HOW of social support.
Social support consists of the psychological/emotional, informational, and tangible benefits we receive from our personal relationships. Social support comes in 3 main forms:
Encouragement, fun, consolation, affiliation, love, spiritual support, sharing of concerns and fears, reduction of feelings of helplessness and enormity of burden through joining forces.
Sharing of personal knowledge, assistance in research of needed material for decision-making, promotion of healthier behavior (often combined with professional support).
Care-taking activities, household help, financial support, work schedule accommodation, child-care, job sharing.
Research has shown that it is not so much the quantity of people in your life that is important, but rather, the quality of social support. Close relationships are particularly beneficial and can even buffer our physiological stress responses.Even a single source of social support can:
- Serve as a stress buffer and coping resource
- Increase feelings of well-being.
- Provide a sense of predictability and stability in one’s life.
Especially right after a SCAD, you may need a variety of support from your family, friends and wider circle of acquaintances. Bear in mind, though, that different people have different abilities, preferences and comfort levels, and are able to provide different kinds of support. Not everyone can do everything, like a one-stop shop at a Target store. Some people are like specialty boutiques: they may do only one thing, but they can do it well. For example, the person who can help you find research on SCAD may not be the same person who helps you walk your dog after you get home from the hospital.
HOW you interact with others can help you cultivate the kind of support you need post-SCAD, and can also help you successfully navigate relationships far beyond your SCAD event.
Be specific with requests, but allow for flexibility in responses
It may be hard for other people to know what to do, or how to help you post-SCAD. Make a list of things you need help with, then reach out to others and let them know what you need (e.g., grocery shopping, a ride to the doctor, someone to listen, or information on a SCAD-related topic). Ask each person what they might feel comfortable doing to help.
Example: “Thanks for offering to help out. Since my SCAD, I need help with more things than I’ve ever needed help with before! I have a list of things I could use some help with. Would you like me to send/read you the list, and then maybe you could choose something that feels manageable for you to do?”
Use assertiveness skills
Assertiveness (direct, open, honest and calm communication) can be especially important for SCAD patients as you learn to increase your social support and decrease unnecessary stress and, in some cases, doing too much for others. Assertiveness can help your existing relationships become stronger and healthier, too.