“I used to sit on the banks with a raft and watch the water roll lazily by. One day I pushed my raft into the shallows of the water and found the water moved swifter than I thought. My raft was actually a boat. Then, after some time, I rowed my little boat into deeper water. There were great storms. Mighty winds, tremendous waves, and sometimes I felt so alone. But I have noticed my little rowboat is now a mighty ship manned by my friends and loved ones; and beautiful calm seas, warm sunny days, and nights filled with comfortable dreams always double after a storm. Now I could never go back and sit on the bank. In fact, I search for deeper water. Such is life when lived.”
– B.D. Gulledge
Life is filled with inevitable ups and downs: stormy experiences and also sometimes calm periods. Support systems can help us survive – even thrive – through challenging times, encourage us while we attempt to make changes in our life, and share the joy of our successes. Moreover, “new evidence supports what we feel instinctively: People need people. Inadequate social support is as dangerous to your health as smoking, lack of exercise, and obesity. … People with weakened social connections have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, infections, depression, arthritis, and problems during pregnancy.”1
Support systems are an ongoing need; they come into play whether or not you are in crisis. For example, when you are clear about your values and priorities in life, you might find support in being with people who not only embrace those same values and priorities, but also reinforce them in your life. When you are trying to learn new behaviors or make changes in your life, change is much easier if friends or family support your effort. Others can also provide us with roles modeling, showing us new options, or inspiration to stay with our efforts if they become challenging. “When we forget, we are reminded. When we have remembered, we become the reminders for others.”2 Also, as you attempt to make changes in your life, those who support you can provide a safe place to experiment with new ways of being.
There are several types of social support: emotional, information, physical and financial. Social support also takes many forms: relationships with family, friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances, memberships in groups and organizations, contacts at work, and pets. “When you seek support, first identify what type you really need. Then decide who might be able to provide it. Try answering the following questions to identify your sources of support:
When you are feeling upset, who can you share your most private fears and worries with?
Is there someone who takes pride in your accomplishments and thinks highly of you?
When you have a problem, who would you go to for practical advice or information?
If you needed a loan of $100 for an emergency, who would you go to?
Who would bring you dinner if you were sick (or even if you weren’t sick)?”1
Although we may be able to get through much of life on our own efforts, seeking appropriate social support may help us to maintain “the best of ourselves and also supports the abandoning of the worst of ourselves. What greater gift can we give each other than that?”2
1. The Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook, David Sobel, MD and Robert Ornstein, PhD, Patient Education Media, Inc.: New York (1996)
2. The Beginner’s Guide to Insight Meditation, Arinna Weisman and Jean Smith, Bell Tower: New York (2001)