Independence, self-reliance, and persistence are all great qualities. But sometimes these virtues can keep us from seeking out help when we need it. It’s natural to want to “do it yourself,” but there are benefits to asking for help.
There are many reasons why it might feel hard to ask for help. You could feel embarrassed to ask or afraid that you’ll be rejected. The risk of emotional pain can keep us from seeking aid even when it’s clear we can’t go it alone. It can be especially hard when there is stigma attached to the reason you need help. It might be hard to ask for help with quitting smoking, for example, because you don’t want to admit to your doctor that you are a smoker.
In some cases, you may not want to ask for help because you’re not even sure what kind of help you need. This is particularly true when we’re overwhelmed or tasked with doing something for the first time. An example of this might be getting behind in paperwork for a new business; as the bills pile up, where do you start?
Sometimes you might even expect those around you to know you need help, and that you shouldn’t have to ask for it. This might be related to a bias that psychologists call the illusion of transparency, where we believe that our feelings, thoughts, or needs are obvious to those around us. When no one volunteers to pitch in with the housework, for example, you become frustrated. But you do such a good job of appearing to be able to handle it all, others aren’t aware you need help.
Whatever it is that keeps you from asking for help, the only way to get better at it is through practice. Here are some tips to help you take the first step and ask for help.
1. Start by explaining how you’ve tried to solve the problem.
This approach does two things. First, it allows you to show it’s not for lack of effort that you seek help—this can help lessen your anxiety about asking. It also gives your helper a head start, so they know what you’ve already accomplished.
2. Don’t apologize for asking.
Starting your conversation with an apology puts your request in a negative light by suggesting that there’s something wrong with coming to them for help. It can also make the interaction awkward, making the person you’re asking feel obligated to excuse you for your feelings.
3. Let the person know why you’ve asked them for help.
People are often honored to be asked to help. Let them know why it is their assistance you need. For example: “You are so good with my kids, could you watch them for an hour or so tomorrow?” or “You’ve always been amazing with numbers, I really need some help with my finances, and you are the first person I thought of.”
4. Be thoughtful about who, what, and when you ask.
Before you ask for help, think carefully about the person you’re asking. First, when deciding who to ask, consider if they have the resources—knowledge, time, transportation—to help you. Next, be specific when you make your request. This makes it easier for them to agree because they know exactly what they are committing to. Also, think about the timing of when you ask. Try not to interrupt them and be mindful about asking them when they are with others. If there’s an audience present, they might feel pressured to say yes.
Remember that when you ask for help or offer to give it, you’re also strengthening your connection to that person and your social support network. A MOBE Guide can help you learn more about your social and emotional well-being and its impact on your overall health. Get started today.