Everyone needs a wingman or battle buddy. Service members often refer to their unit as a "second family" who they can turn to for support, friendship, and even protection. It’s not unusual for a recently reintegrated service member to feel as though that support community has disappeared after returning from deployment, as they are no longer surrounded by their unit. For this reason, it’s important for service members to pursue social wellness, find friendship and support in both their military and civilian lives, feel a sense of belonging, and cultivate respect for others.
What does “social wellness” mean?
- Social Wellness means using good communication skills and actively seeking opportunities to connect with others in a personal way:
Good communication skills are an important part of understanding others and being understood. Socially well individuals are respectful and authentic with others, generously sharing their thoughts, stories and feelings, and noticing when it’s better to listen than to speak.
Seeking opportunities to connect with others is a means to maintain and create relationships, and an indication of ease and comfort in social situations. Whether through social networking sites, at social gatherings among friends and family, or over the phone, socially well individuals are active participants in their relationships.
- Social wellness means developing healthy attachments and knowing how to cope with unhealthy relationships:
Developing healthy attachments as opposed to unhealthy attachments is an important differentiation to make when discussing social wellness. Healthy attachments are characterized by mutual respect, equal give and take, and the overall positive influence the attachment has on the lives of those involved in the relationship.
Coping with unhealthy relationships can be just as important as maintaining good relationships. Socially well individuals can recognize when a relationship is harmful to them and is able to part from negative relationships (or, if a total separation isn’t possible, insert a fair amount of distance between themselves and the other person).
- Social wellness means respecting others and performing social roles according to the needs of your family members, employers, and community:
Respecting others assists in forming authentic relationships based on openness, trust and understanding. Socially well individuals treat all connections courteously and openly, and do not pass judgment on others based on race, sex, religion or ethnicity, choosing to explore diversity in their social interactions instead.
Performing social roles is similar to fulfilling a position description for your job. Your social roles include your position in your military assignment, your relationship to your family members, or obligations to the community. Being a good parent, responding well to superior officers, and abiding by the law are all examples of social wellness.
Signs of social distress
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- Lack of meaningful relationships
- All-consuming relationships
- Irrational defiance or hostility
- Physically abusive behavior
- Disrespect for family, peers
- Isolation from others
- Manipulation, lying, stealing
- Anxiety or nervousness in social situations
- Limited and/or poor communication with family and friends
- Feelings of worthlessness
Tips for improving social wellness
- Make time for your family and friends. In the same way you might set aside money for everyday expenses, you should set aside time and emotion for your family and friends. Being physically and emotionally available to others doesn’t just make you a good friend; it ensures that when you’re in need, your friends and family will be there to return the favor.
- Get plugged in. Technology has made it convenient to connect with family and friends anytime, anywhere. Sharing your life with friends on Facebook and Twitter, using Skype, and choosing mobile packages that benefit your family and friends can help keep you in the loop even if you’re on a deployment. (Just make sure you’re practicing OPSEC while you’re surfing the information highway.)
- Practice being an extrovert. Start by saying "hello" to someone you’ve seen before but never greeted. Shake hands, introduce yourself, help someone with a task, or volunteer your time or talents. These are all small ways to extend yourself into your community and expand your social circle.
- Know yourself. Do you often find yourself in an unbalanced or unhealthy relationship? Are your relationships fulfilling? Does opening up to others about yourself make you anxious or uncomfortable? Maintaining awareness of your patterns, wants and needs will help you maintain the right relationships, find support, and enjoy a healthy social life.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Communication is the primary way to forge a connection with others – doing it in ways that strengthen mutual respect and affection can only reward you. Learn to listen, share and act honestly, knowing that good friends and family will appreciate and respect you for who you are.