More often than not, we are left alone with our problems. We try and tackle them all by ourselves. Then, when we are in distress, we may turn to close friends or family to help out. Sometimes this can help, but a lot of people close to you may struggle to relate to you or understand you. They might even be too focused on telling you what you should do instead of just listening. That is why support groups were created.
Support groups provide a place where people can share personal stories, express emotions, and be heard in an atmosphere of acceptance, understanding, and encouragement. Together, group members learn to problem-solve and cope with life’s challenges. It is amazing how much healing and growth a group of people coming together and just listening can provide. If you are thinking of joining a support group, but still not totally convinced, this article may help you out. I explain all the benefits of joining, what to expect, and some tips on how to make the most of it.
Benefits of Support Groups
There is a support group for just about everything you can think of, and there is a reason for that! Support groups have proven to be an extremely beneficial form of treatment for those who are feeling depressed or suffering from anxiety and other similar diseases. Support groups are dedicated to providing each other with a community of like-minded individuals that have shared experiences or feelings. So if you are on the fence about joining, here are a few of the many benefits support groups can offer.
Make You Realize That You Are Not Alone
When left with your own thoughts, it is easy to convince yourself that you are the only one in the entire world with a certain problem. People are often surprised when they attend a support group and realize that there a ton of other people who understand exactly what you are going through. This realization provides a sort of relief for many people who are suffering. It also creates an instant community.
Help to Increase Self-Understanding
Support groups begin to help you learn more and more about yourself. Through sharing stories and experiences you begin to develop coping mechanisms and other things that help you handle difficult situations when they arise. You learn what works for you and what doesn’t and begin to understand why. This is such an important step that helps you to take back control of your life.
Improves Your Social Skills
Many mental illnesses end up causing those suffering to withdrawl from social situations. Meeting and talking with other people that understand this helps to practice social skills. You are in a safe space where you can learn to effectively communicate with others. You are constantly interacting with one another on personal levels and each conversation will help you to be more comfortable in similar situations.
It Will Reduce Distress
Joining a support group means that you are scheduling a dedicated and recurring amount of time to better yourself. It is only natural for you to feel less stress and discomfort as you begin to work through your issues and help others work through their own.
You Can Help Others
This is something that is important to remember when participating in groups. You are just as much there to help everyone else as you are there to be helped. That is the nature of support groups. You gather so you can lean on and encourage each other. Your stories and experiences and successes and failures are all helping other members of the group. So, when you are thinking about skipping a week, think about everyone else that your absence will affect. Helping others will end up making you feel better too.
Get Practical Feedback From Those Who Have Had Similiar Experiences
The best part of support groups is that everyone knows what you are going through because they have experienced it themselves. You all may have different stories, but at the core, you have all dealt with similar issues. Everyone in the group has had a different journey to healing and everyone is at different stages of the process. This means that you are surrounded by the best possible people to get advice from. They can offer practical solutions that you can trust will work. Hearing group members’ stories may even stop you from going down certain roads that you know won’t work.
Keeps You Motivated, Hopeful, & Empowered
As you hear other’s stories of where they once were and see how far they have come you will start to believe that you can get here one day too. Being surrounded by people who have made great strides toward having happier and healthier lives will continuously motivate you to do the same.
How to Make The Most of Your Experience
It can be stressful when thinking about attending your first support group meeting. You might not know what to expect or how to act. It is important to go into this with a positive mindset. Believe that this group is going to help you get better. Now that you are thinking you want to attend a support group here are some tips on how to make the most of your time there.
Find One and Go
This might be pretty obvious, but it is the most important step in bettering yourself. Just go. Do not let the anxiety of never having been stop you from attending now. Stop yourself from making up excuses. You are only holding yourself back. Do some research and find a group in your area that sounds like a good fit. Online searches can be helpful, but you may want to talk to a professional in your area and ask them for recommendations. There are probably a bunch of groups that are not advertised online. Feel free to try out many different groups until you find the one for you.
Be Open & Honest
You will never be pressured to speak up or share anything beyond what you are comfortable with. That being said, it is in your best interest to share as much as you can. When it is your turn, share your stories and experiences and thoughts. Support groups are full of people who understand what you are going through better than anyone else. They are judgment-free. This is one of the reasons anonymity is so important. While listening is great, speaking out loud in itself has actually proven to be healing. Speak up! People cannot provide support and comfort for a person whose story they have never heard.
Many of the stories you hear from others in your group will be powerful and moving. While it may be tempting to share these stories with other people in your life, that is not always a great idea. It is important to respect the privacy of your group members. One of the parts of support groups that makes them so helpful is that they are judgment-free and confidential. Before you tell someone else’s story, think about how you would feel if another member of the group was sharing your story with an outsider. It is generally a good idea to steer clear of discussing group members and their stories. If you do decide to share, make sure you keep it general and don’t ever include any personal details. You never know who is connected.
It might sound cliche, but it is true. No question is too simple and no question is off-limits. For your time in a support group to be successful, it is important that you advocate for your needs. If you do not understand something or if you have a differing perspective to share on a specific topic, make sure to convey that. There may be another group member who was thinking the same thing but did not have the courage to speak up. Everyone has something different to offer the group, make yours known.
Get Involved And Stay Involved
Support groups are a powerful source for lasting change, but only when you immerse yourself in the experience. You cannot be half in and expect jaw-dropping results. It is important to keep up with regular attendance. Participate as much as possible. Offer up thoughts, opinions, and stories on everything talked about. Remember, everyone else in the group is there for the same reason you are. They have needs too. If you sit in silence you are never going to get to help them.
Joining a support group is a great way to help you cope with whatever issues you are dealing with. There are a great number of benefits to joining and it is something that can change your life. Find a group that is right for you and put your all into it and you will see results.