Building Natural Supports

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Natural supports exist for everyone. Risk factors exist for everyone too, though some people are exposed to more risk factors than others. Regardless of which risk factors affect an individual, he or she can balance out risk by focusing on which factors are changeable. Friends, family members, hobbies, and simple activities all offer natural support to help bring balance to an individual’s life.

Natural supports can counteract risk factors.

Risk factors can affect each and every one of us. Some of them can be changed or adjusted, while others are unchangeable. The following list gives some examples of each type of risk factor:


  • Certain diseases, disorders, or disabilities, e.g., being wheelchair-bound, having severe asthma, being dyslexic
  • An absent parent, due to, for example, work demands, deployment, or divorce
  • Incarcerated, deployed, or otherwise absent parent
  • Surviving physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Living in a rough neighborhood (can be physically changed, but circumstances may prohibit a move or make it difficult)


  • Lack of involvement in social activities or clubs
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of communication among extended family members
  • Lack of effective parenting, e.g., little or no discipline, ineffective rules, neglect
  • Feeling lonely or isolated

When you are working with a National Guard family, it’s important to focus a family member’s attention on the risk factors that are changeable. Dwelling on unchangeable risk factors does nothing to build resilience. Natural supports provide a great way to address and balance out many of these changeable risk factors. None of them need to be seen as barriers to living a fulfilling life. The most vital thing to remember is that by adjusting or addressing the changeable risk factors, we can balance or outweigh the unchangeable ones.

People you already love and trust make great natural supports.

Most of us can probably list a few people we encounter in our everyday lives: friends, family members, coworkers, acquaintances. Even a stay-at-home parent might run into a neighbor, see a familiar grocery clerk, or talk to his or her own parent or sibling on a regular basis. When you are looking at building or strengthening the natural support network that already exists in your life—or when you are working with a National Guard family—focusing on people whom you especially love and trust can help. Ideally, these are people who:

  • Empathize with you: They try to understand where you are coming from, relate in some way, and don’t discount or brush off your feelings.
  • Affirm your strengths and uniqueness: They know and recognize the things you’ve accomplished in life, both large and small.
  • Play with you: They would join you on a walk, sing along to the car radio, or share jokes.
  • Are open-minded: They listen well and let you speak your true feelings.
  • Accept you: They care about who you are, are non-judgmental, and would turn to you when they need help.

Hobbies and activities are also natural supports that build protective factors.

Staying busy doesn’t mean someone completely avoids or ignores adverse life circumstances. On the contrary: staying busy can balance these circumstances via tasks, hobbies, or social interactions that hold appeal and add positive feelings to help dilute stressful life circumstances.

Keeping busy doesn’t have to mean scheduling every single hour of your day with a different activity. Every family’s life is hectic, but finding even short periods of time in which to do something that relieves stress can go a long way in building resilience. This is also a common strategy used for people with depression. The goal is to distract or remove a person from the circumstances that are making him or her feel depressed. Staying busy is certainly not a cure-all; over time, however, building these new habits can increase feelings of self-worth, comfort, and competency.


  • Rent a favorite movie
  • Take a hot bath
  • Put on soothing music or a favorite album
  • Go for a walk around the block—with a pet, if you have one
  • Write a letter or email to a friend
  • Write in a journal
  • Sketch
  • Indulge in a favorite snack
  • Meditate or relax through deep breathing
  • Go to the gym

With more planning:

  • Take a family field trip to a beach, museum, park, or other attraction
  • Start a new hobby—painting, writing, knitting, weight-lifting, yoga, playing an instrument
  • Join a community sports league
  • Volunteer regularly
  • Plant and tend to a garden
  • Adopt a pet
  • Start or join a book group

Activities in which a person gives something of him or herself (volunteering) can be just as satisfying for the caregiver as they are for the person being cared for. Volunteerism enhances feelings of positive self-esteem.

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