University News

Resilience Resources Weekly: Social Networks

by Katie Clare, Associate Director for Resilience Programs, University Life

Southwick and Charney point us to the role of social networks for resilience. This might feel difficult in the face of social distancing, but the coronavirus pandemic only highlights the importance of connection. Your social network is an ideal space to devote attention, as there’s no better way to build resilience than to be in a space of challenge and potential that requires adaptation. Since social connection benefits our physical and psychological well-being, and thus our ability to be resilient, we must maintain our relationships while maintaining social distancing measures.

While we appreciate our friends and family, let’s be honest. Sometimes we take these relationships for granted. With many studies suggesting strong social connections as the most important factor in resilience, it is critical to bolster our connections, not ignore them. Yes, this pandemic has tested our relationships, but it has also highlighted their importance. Relationships provide us with spaces to land with our struggles, to share our joys, and to vent our frustrations. While they provide for us, we must also provide for them. After all, the core of the social network is a balance of give and take.

This leads us to consider how we nurture our social networks. How do we maintain our relationships? How do we strengthen them? Moreover, are we able to recognize when we might need to lean more heavily on our network? Are we comfortable asking for help? And are we able to recognize when those in our networks need support and encouragement?

We can appreciate the importance of nurturing our relationships, but the realities of life sometimes challenge the follow through. With stay-at-home orders in place, it might seem even more challenging. After all, nurturing sometimes happens by default with very little intentional effort. For example, we run into a friend or colleague in line for coffee and enjoy an impromptu chat. We arrive to a class or a meeting early and connect with the people sitting near us instead of diving into technology. While unplanned, these moments of connection still help to strengthen those relationships and may even result in a more intentional plan to get lunch together or take a walk around campus. The coronavirus pandemic may not offer unexpected moments of connection and may limit the possibilities for intentional encounters. It does, however, give us the opportunity to be grateful for the connections we have and to be creative in nurturing them.

As you reflect on your social network’s role in your ability to be resilient and consider how you might strengthen your network and increase your resilience, consider the following:


Kelly McGonigal’s new book, The Joy of Movement, presents social networks as widening circles of connection. The inner circle generally includes your primary life partner. The second circle contains about five people, usually close family and friends. The third circle of approximately 15 people is the core friendship circle. The fourth circle is comprised of about 50 friends, but the ties are not close. For example, you might not think to ask them to do a favor for you, and you probably are not inviting them to dinner. Finally, the fifth circle might contain up to 150 more casual connections at work or in your various communities. As you think about strengthening resilience by attending to your social network, one step is to identify the people in these circles, so go ahead, sit down, and make five lists. Are you feeling more creative? Sit down with some art supplies and create a more visual display of these circles.

With the individuals identified, come up with a plan. Perhaps you draft a list of people to reach out to via text this week. Perhaps there’s a separate list of people to call. Perhaps there’s another list for people you will email. Did you just read a book and think a certain friend would love it? If so, send them your copy or gift them a new copy and encourage them to follow up with you once they read it. Did you just hear a new song and find yourself thinking of a certain friend? If so, share that song with him or her. To really invest in the connection, devote your full attention to the activity. For example, if you choose to call someone, don’t multitask your way through the conversation by folding laundry at the same time. Give yourself and your person the gift of your time. And remember this isn’t a competition. The goal is not to reach out to every individual in your network but to identify a handful that you might want to develop. Maybe pick a couple of people for each week for the duration of the current stay-at-home order.

Social Connectedness

If you’re a visual person, you might appreciate Emma Seppala’s infographic on social connectedness. It highlights some of the reasons you should devote time and attention to your social network in terms of the physical and psychological benefits. It also highlights the internal sense of connection that can be developed from a strong social network. Finally, it points out that social connectedness is not the domain of extroverts. As you review her material, you might consider the following questions:

  • The infographic highlights six benefits of social connectedness. Which one do you feel strongest in already? Which one would you like to see increase?
  • If you identify as an introvert, how has the stay-at-home situation been a good thing for you? How has it challenged you? Similarly, if you identify as an extrovert, how has the stay-at-home situation challenged you? How has it been a good thing for you?
  • If asking for help and offering help is an important component of social networks and the social connectedness that we gain from those networks, how have you asked for help or offered help while maintaining social distancing?

Video Chatting

Do you feel like your social network is on overdrive even though you’re staying at home? Do you feel like you’re seeing more of people now with Zoom calls and Webex meetings? Do you feel like all this screen time is leaving you more fatigued than before? If so, this insightful BBC story might hit home. It’s more work to manage a video chat than it is to have an actual face-to-face conversation.

While you might not be able to control your employer’s expectations when it comes to Zoom calls and Webex meetings, you can be purposeful in how you use technology in your personal connections. The obvious go-to here might be the video chat because it is definitely nice to see the people we care about but be sure to mix things up. Include some actual phone calls in your outreach efforts. Slow it down even more by writing a letter and putting it in the mail. Imagine the recipient’s delight at getting something in the mail other than a bill or an advertisement and savor the sweetness that moment will bring.