Asking for help may feel challenging, uncomfortable, or downright impossible at times. Where to even begin? Read on to learn the art of asking for help, along with the health benefits of reaching out in times of need.
Even when overwhelmed or at my wits’ end, I often fear, resist, or forget to ask for help. And I know I’m far from alone in this. Whether born of a desire not to burden others, a strategy to avoid rejection, or a belief rooted in cultural context, so many of us wind up suffering in silence while help is just a request away. If only we’d asked.
What does hold so many of us back from requesting help? Perhaps shyness, vulnerability, not quite knowing the right words, or struggling to find a free moment to ask what’s getting in the way.
Whether it’s for extra child-minding, lending a kind listening ear, or assistance with a work project, many of us find it difficult to find the language, courage, and resilience to ask for the support we need.
Wanting to understand more about the intricacies and impacts of help-seeking, I turned to the insight of naturopathic doctor and reiki master, Caroline Meyer, ND. Quite simply, she says, “Asking for help makes life easier to enjoy.”
Resisting reaching out
Why can it feel so off-putting or intimidating to ask for help? “The last thing many of us want to do is to make a request for help,” says Meyer. “Rather than risk exposing ourselves, we work doubly hard to hide the gaps—our needs. Some deny that they have needs at all. Most of us even go so far as to refuse assistance when it’s offered to us.”
In asking Meyer about why soliciting support can feel so unpleasant, she said that many of us are reared into the belief that requesting help is a sign of weakness. A prevalent North American attitude is the prioritization of individuality and self-sufficiency. “We are led to believe that highly successful people are just more capable of taking action on their own.”
Help and health
“Feeling overwhelmed and lost, needing help yet not asking for it, is extremely stressful,” explains Meyer. “And unchecked chronic stress has myriad negative health outcomes.” Luckily, she says, “Asking for help comes with profound relief, which can in turn reduce stress levels significantly.”
What’s at stake if we’re unable to request help? These are all potential consequences:
- feelings of isolation
- feelings of being overwhelmed
- difficulty meeting challenges
- increased stress
Assistance and altruism
Fortunately, the inverse is also true. “Each of us knows how good it feels to provide help to others,” Meyer points out. “By not asking for help, you deprive those around you of the opportunity to have this experience of generosity. By asking, you can actually improve the health of other people in your social circle and larger community too!”
How to ask for help
A solid place when beginning to ask for help, Meyer says, is to start with smaller requests—something less pivotal, less front and centre. As well, it might be easier to “first ask the people whom you trust the most.” That said, practising “asking a wider group of people, making your request more public, can bring surprisingly positive benefits. Just think of the innumerable examples of crowdfunding generosity from acquaintances and strangers.”
Like mindfulness and gratitude, asking for help is also a practice. “Asking for help,” says Meyer, is akin to “building muscle strength or endurance; with practice, your acuity in asking for the right kind of help becomes stronger. The beauty of asking is that it invites others to be vulnerable with you.”
“Before seeking help, [we] often wonder, ‘If I ask for help, what are the chances I’ll get it?’” says Meyer. How can we bounce back from being turned down? “Part of the risk,” she explains, “is not receiving the help asked for, or at least not in the way that you expect. Acknowledge the pain of not getting what you requested, and aim to separate the answer from the person. Maybe your family member would like to help, but timing is impossible.”
Although so many of us hold ourselves back out of fear of rejection, studies show that “people generally underestimate the likelihood of compliance in making a direct request for help … success in help-seeking may be more likely than we tend to assume.”
Friends and feedback
“The act of asking,” Meyer points out, “gives you feedback on the best people to ask, just as repeatedly getting a ‘no’ can indicate a less reliable support.” Asking can offer clarity on the nature of your relationships.
Asking for help is good medicine
“Unchecked stress is one of the most common factors in chronic disease,” says Meyer. “Asking for help is good medicine, since it increases our connection with others. Everyone’s health improves! It feels just as good to be helpful as it does to receive help.”
But it’s not just individual health and quality of life that can be enhanced. “The practice of asking for help has the power to heal entire communities.”
I asked Caroline Meyer, ND, about how parents can encourage their children to ask for help.
“Even though children naturally ask for and offer help, requesting support is a skill that needs to be practised,” she says. “With children, it’s even more important to give honest ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses. Always saying ‘yes’ gives them a false expectation so that the ‘no’ feels devastating. Saying ‘no’ alongside options or an explanation teaches children that there is no harm in the asking and that negotiation often leads to everyone being satisfied with the outcome.”
- Start by focusing on small, low-stakes needs.
- Ask someone you feel particularly close to.
- Practise not taking a “no” personally.
- Have a backup person, or plan B, if you initially receive a “no.”
- Try to ask for help once a week.
- Notice your own feelings when you offer, are asked, and provide help for others.