From siblings to spouses, relationships within a family can have an impact on mental and physical wellbeing.
The quality of these relationships is built upon social support as well as social strain, and both can take a toll on mental health and behaviors. A supportive family that shows love, shares advice, and cares for one another can increase self-esteem among one another. One study found that receiving support from family members leads to greater sense of self-worth, which leads to optimism and often a healthy mental outlook.
But it also found that family strain—arguments, critical comments, and unrealistic expectations and demands—can result in impaired immune function, negative impact on the cardiovascular system, and increased risk for depression.
It’s clear social support is the healthier family dynamic, so here are a few ways to foster it in your own home.
Have realistic expectations
When building a healthy support system at home, it’s important to have realistic expectations among one another. Accepting family members as they are and not trying to always change them is a healthy approach.
To not end up disappointed, make the reasonable expectations you do have known to everyone. For example, parents can let their children know they expect them to share their feelings and be honest about mistakes they’ve made and can model doing the same.
Spend time together
To support one another, a family has to truly know one another. That trust and bond comes from spending quality time with each other. When spending time together, it’s important for the family to put away distractions like phones and give each other full attention. Ask questions and really listen to the answers.
Practice open and honest communication
Open communication and flexibility—being willing to allow a relationship to change and evolve—is key. Part of open communication in a family is having a willingness to reach out and ask for help from one another. When called on to be that person for someone else, be there for them. That trust and support is what leads to positive mental health.
Embrace the bumps in the road
During the development of a supportive family environment, things won’t be perfect. How tense moments are handled is what matters. It’s not always possible to get people to agree, but family members can listen to one another and agree to negotiate.
When navigating changes within your family and your relationship dynamics, it can be helpful to talk to a trusted professional. Valley Oaks Health offers counseling to help you and your loved ones grow together.