Why do we find it so hard to ask for help? Why is it that our fallback is “I got this”? Why is it that, rather than reaching out to make things easier for ourselves, we try to do it all ourselves? Many women of our generation have been conditioned to make it on our own, rather than allow others to know that we might be struggling, or that we might need a hand. We have been taught that not being able to do everything we need to do with grace is a sign of weakness, and that we should never reveal our weakness.
The Lifestyle Heart Trial was a groundbreaking study in preventive cardiology, showing the significant role of group support as part of a four-pronged approach to the reduction of heart disease. Using exercise, diet, stress management (yoga) and group support, there was evidence of regression of heart disease. Most interesting to me about this study is that it wasn’t just about the diet and exercise, which is the focus of many studies like this. This study included managing stress and incorporated the significant role of comradery and community into the understanding of how our hearts heal, which in my view is just as important. The focus of the group was on sharing, supporting, understanding and helping. This not only allowed patients with heart disease to feel not-so-alone, but also to feel that there were others who truly understood them, and that they had a team behind them cheering them on.
I have brought up this topic many times when speaking to companies about stress and heart health. And every time, I can tell that it feels foreign to these high-achieving people—indeed, some of the people who could benefit most. Studies have shown that group support can not only improve health and wellness, but decrease mortality. It is just as (or almost as) essential to our happiness and well-being as sleep, diet and exercise. Having supportive, positive relationships also increases the hormones that keep us happy and, ultimately, healthy.
This is why I believe it is not just nice but critical, in a time when stress is at such an epidemic level, to find your team so that you have the support you need. This can make a huge difference in how well you—and your heart—get through the tough times. Learning to ask for help, even at the office, is something we have to start thinking of as normal and accepted, rather than a sign of some pathology or weakness, or even an “emotional problem.”
But how do we do it? How do we make this change in perception—step out of line and ask for help in a world where connection seems rampant via the internet, but actually feels increasingly isolated? What about competition and the importance of staying ahead of the game? What will people think? Who wants to be the first one to say, “I need help”?
We have to find a way to change this stigma. We all need to come together to help each manage the load. When we all shoulder a burden, it becomes easier to bear.
I’ve seen what this can look like when I have sat in on my patients’ group support program for managing heart disease. The conversation was about everything from healthy recipes and time management in the era of multi-tasking to the fear of death and dying. Regardless of the conversation, each member left with a sense of belonging and a sense that they were heard and understood. Where is the weakness in that?
I don’t propose you go into work asking to build a campfire and sing folk songs together, but I do suggest that you look out for those like-minded people who could potentially be part of your support system, and you a part of theirs. People you could bounce things off of, or call in a pinch. These are the people who could be there to lend a hand or cover for you if you are running late, or if you have to leave work for a family emergency. These are people who have your back. And of course, you could be there for them when they need it, too.
A community isn’t necessarily made up of the friends you choose to spend time with every day. You may not share your intimate thoughts with them, but they are the people with whom you feel a common bond, who can share your life circumstances, who can support you and help you, and you them, without anybody feeling concern, regret, remorse or embarrassment. Isn’t that how communities used to function? This isn’t unprecedented. To look forward, perhaps we only need to look back.
As I closed the door to my office at my previous job after 12 years, my own team of support at work gathered around me to say good-bye one more time—the same way they have lent me support, kindness and appreciation over the years. I have always been able to call on the members of this posse if I had to go to my son’s school and needed coverage. These are the people I would call if I wasn’t feeling well, to make sure that everything at work would be taken care of. These are the people who came together for brief moments in the middle of taking care of patients to fill each other in on what was going on in our lives. This was the team that was created both accidentally and inadvertently, but which arose out of necessity. They made my burden lighter, and I hope I was sometimes able to lighten theirs.
What I am saying here, in essence, is just this: Find your people. Find your team. Find your posse. Find that group that gives you the support, the kindness and the arena to be who you need to be, especially when things get difficult. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It is a sign of emotional intelligence and the enlightened understanding that none of us were ever meant to do it all alone.
Click here to buy Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s book, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, or visit her website http://drsuzannesteinbaum.com.