The pandemic’s impact on health, finances, mental health, caregiving, and more has been immense. The emotional burdens of fighting racial oppression and serving as a front-line health worker are heavy. Unfortunately, in our “suck-it-up” culture, we’re not always taught to ask for the help we need when we’re facing a challenge that is beginning to overwhelm us.
While asking for help can feel quite vulnerable and humbling, it doesn’t have to be scary. I bring the following lessons learned from my own life as inspiration to seek the support that you need. Here are five fears to let go of so that asking for help will feel more approachable.
Let go of the fear of being a burden
I once thought that asking a loved one for something caused them to feel obligated to give it to me. That mindset led me to much grief when asking for help, because I mistakenly equated making a request to “being a burden.”
If this sounds familiar, consider a different paradigm: Trust others to hold their own healthy boundaries when considering whether to accept your request. It is their job to decide their capacity to help you, not yours. If you are granted the request for help, choose to fully embrace that support. Trust that you are not a burden — if you were causing them hardship, they wouldn’t have agreed to help you, right? Exactly.
Let go of the fear of being judged
Free yourself from the fear that other people will judge you for getting help — because they might, in fact, judge you. But you will be okay. Decide to make the best choice for your own life circumstances, regardless of what other people think. It’s silly to suffer alone simply to keep up appearances (trust me — I’ve tried this, and it doesn’t work).
When I lost my job due to the pandemic, I could not afford to live on my own. Yet I wanted my own place because I feared that I would be judged for moving in with my family. I eventually let go of my pride and asked to stay with my extended family until I could find work and move out. And although I did get a few snarky comments about crashing with my family, I ultimately realized that those opinions didn’t matter. I realized that I could never control what other people thought of me, but I could choose to separate my self-worth from those outside opinions.
Let go of shame
Speaking of which, release internal shame from needing support, too. Asking for help is a sign of strength. Accepting unemployment assistance is beneficial to your household, not a sign of failure. Reaching out to your church to apply for their emergency fund is brave, not pathetic. Asking a colleague for support with a project is strategic, not weak. Requesting to live with your family in order to pay off debt is smart, not immature. Asking a friend to babysit your son so that you can have a break is courageous, not bad parenting. All of these requests for help are signs that you are taking active steps to improve yourself.
Let go of the idea that victories only count when they’re won alone
It’s a myth that success doesn’t count unless you do it all yourself. Allow other people and resources to help you. For some, this might mean accepting government benefits for the first time, even though you’ve qualified for years. It could mean finally hiring an assistant for your business. It could mean beginning to see a therapist. It could mean seeking donations to keep your organization’s new outreach initiative afloat.
For me, this shift happened when I recently decided to resume taking my antidepressant medication after four years without it. There was certainly a part of me that wanted to manage my mental wellness without medication for the sake of “independence.” I knew that I was not feeling well, however, and I knew that the antidepressant would make me feel more like myself. When the pandemic eventually brought me unprecedented challenges, I was grateful that I had the additional mental health foundation from that medication. And that’s what it is for — that’s why it was prescribed for me.
Let go of the fear of changing your relationship dynamic
Asking for help can feel difficult when you are accustomed to giving support to those around you, or when you pride yourself on being the helper. I was once this way. Over time, I have learned to rely on my friends and my loved ones for their support as much as they rely on me. My relationships are better for it. Allow your relationships to be colored by mutuality.
If you struggle with asking for help from your loved ones, I encourage you to begin to share your needs. You can start with asking for small things: I can’t cook dinners this week because work has been draining. Could you take that on? Or: Could you fill up the gas tank for my car before I go to work tomorrow?
Asking for help becomes easier the more you practice. I’ve used lines such as: I know I’ve never brought this up before, but I’ve been handling ____ by myself, and I could use your help. Another option that’s worked for me: I’ve been working on this new initiative, and I’d like to see if you’d be willing to support me.
Why get help
Getting the support you need will make you stronger. In turn, this will make you better able to care for those who depend on you. Asking for help can even deepen your relationships. Research shows that vulnerability with loved ones can build intimacy. Psychologists have studied the “Ben Franklin Effect“, which suggests that we like people more when we do favors for them. But even aside from these studies, I say that the top reason to seek help is because you deserve to be supported. The resources are out there. Let go of your fears and ask for them.