It's easy to dismiss this part of the journey as old school and worthy of skepticism, but sharing our experience with others is a valuable tool that can help everyone involved in extraordinary ways. In my opinion, the power of honest sharing between people of all walks of life - whether we've been successful or not - is more important than ever. Attempting to rebuild a life and organize a new system for living that is capable of resisting disease is not a task that is easy to do alone. Human beings are social creatures. We require validation, support and ongoing alliances in moments of stress or during the process of change when so much of our lives gets altered. And make no mistake about it, life-altering changes from disease can be among the most stressful endeavors we make as individuals because when we begin the process often times we are divorcing ourselves from some powerful, negative forces that have held us back for much too long.
For many people, there is nothing more terrifying than sharing our personal experiences with others. This is where our deepest fears and insecurities surface, forcing our best intentions to collide with every negative thought, every hindrance to healing, every grief, guilt, anxiety, worry, memory where we failed before could suddenly derail our progress. Our mindsets are both complex and fragile things and - assuredly - they should not be left without the attention they deserve.
According to the APA’s 2015 Stress in America survey, the average stress level for those with emotional support was 5.0 out of 10, compared to 6.3 for those without such support, and that's in the face of powerful data that has linked an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and diminished immune system function and more. Yet, as valuable as social support is, more than half (55% of the respondents) indicated that they could have used more assistance when asked if they could have used more support during periods of emotional pressure.
Yes, building a support network takes time, due diligence and even some creativity. Finding people who we can trust is not an easy thing to do. Make time for the friends and family that you do have. Reaching out first can lend itself to many powerful returns. And there is research that does suggest that providing social support to friends and family can be even more important than receiving it, resetting the implications for how social contact can influence health and longevity.
Obviously, the stresses of everyday life cannot be avoided or minimized. But what we can do to alleviate some of it is to at least be honest with these feelings, insecurities and internal mechanisms that seek to divert us from our best intentions. Remember, there is the desert - but there's always an oasis out there too. We can find relief with an open mind as these inner conflicts can lead to new levels of awareness. At some level, whether you reach out for professional assistance or not, when we begin to change our mindset we are ideally confronting fears, anxieties and deep rooted experiences that have kept us out of balance for far too long. Ask the important questions internally and be prepared to accept the source of your resistance, but most important of all search for mentors and members who can support you when your confidence level is weak. Exercise, meditation and message are all productive weapons in your arsenal and do not hesitate to use them in moments of stress.
Over a period of time what you will soon discover is that how you arrived at this point doesn’t really matter. Fear doesn't matter. Acceptance should not matter and it is never the reason for change. What matters the most is how much we need to repair the damaged thinking that made unhealthy choices seem preferable to facing up to some harsh realities. Before today we didn’t know any better; now we do. And that’s where the experience, strength and hope of others matters. In order for us to believe in our personal journeys, we have to see that it works for others. Listening to others explain what worked for them, share their results and hopes for the future - or maybe just how difficult it's been to turn a corner - reminds everyone that we're not alone in mindset, and that just a little support can give us hope. There will be moments when the challenges may seem too steep, but if we see and hear from people who once felt the way I feel, who had many of the same or similar experiences, who suffered and managed to get past the same symptoms and pushed through them to improve, then just maybe others will begin to believe that they can do it too.
This is where we begin to close the loop on our wellness plan, borne from an obligation that we have to share with others. It is part of the journey as people and affirmation is found in these three guiding principles:
Identify with others and don't compare. First of all, no two people will achieve the same results so comparing rates of success or failure is really a useless exercise. The details, naturally, mean less than the feelings, fears and aspirations of our plans. We are there to solely lend support, not offer cures or criticize each other's methods. Advice must be sought out and only then should we offer our honest impressions followed by helpful ideas based solely on personal experience. Again, we are not there to solve, cure or prescribe a course of action. We are there to listen, share and identify with others who have embarked on their own journey to wellness.
Courage discouraged is a lost opportunity. For some people the truth isn’t an easy thing to confront – it also can be a source of great fear because there are cases when professional health care literally gives up on people. In other cases, people have given up on themselves. So it’s in that moment of recognizing that fear and then making a decision to push through it - that is how real change is made. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to remain non-judgmental when somebody has made the choice to reject what is comfortable to achieve new levels of awareness. Even if these steps seem to be small on the surface, they are important to the person sharing them. Simply put, our obligation is to preserve discretion and express our appreciation of their trust in the hope that we've encouraged more significant steps to come.
Mentorship over mastery in everything. As we learn from our discoveries and begin to accept new ways of thinking, naturally we begin to feel a lot healthier, filled with vitality and so much more alert from the confidence that our journey has provided. It is vital that we recognize that the sum of our experiences makes us inspiring people worth knowing and not instructional figures who have convinced ourselves that we've discovered shortcuts, cures and breakthroughs. That's the difference between mentorship and mastery. The mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. A master places extreme faith in control and sees himself in dominion of knowledge and certainty, almost to a fault. Always seek mentors over masters, and if sought out as a mentor be honest and extremely selective with your challenges.
Last but certainly not least: if you’re feeling over-stressed and don’t have a support network to rely on, a therapist can be a next logical step. As experts in human behavior, psychologists will help you develop strategies to manage stress and improve social skills. You can also visit www.mentalhealth.gov, a website of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that offers resources in English and Spanish.