Redefining "Help"

May 07, 2013

When life-changing events happen, it can leave you and your support network at a loss. Whether it is something as joyous as the birth of a child or as devastating as a death or diagnosis, daily routines often go out the window and in the midst of adjusting to a “new normal,” we also have to figure out how to manage the tasks of everyday life. Whether you find yourself at the center of this transition or on the outside looking in, it can be difficult to know how to ask for or offer help.

Learning How to Ask

Asking for help can make you feel vulnerable. Sometimes it is hard to admit that you can’t do everything on your own. Or perhaps you feel like asking for help will burden others. From the other side, asking to help may be daunting because you don’t want your loved ones to feel like you think they can’t do it themselves. The bottom line is that, if the question isn’t asked, no one benefits. So how do you ask for or to help?

For help:

  • Make a list of what you need help with (walking the dog? Making dinner? Filling out insurance forms?)
  • Don’t wait to ask for help. Stress greatly affects your health and waiting just allows this stress to build.
  • Be targeted with your “ask.” Is your friend a gardener but not a great cook? It may be better to ask them for help with yard work than with meal preparation.
  • Consider timing. People will be more open to helping if you ask when they are not tired or stressed themselves.
  • Ask different people. It is easier and more enjoyable for loved ones to lend a hand now and then rather than all the time.
  • Be strong and specific with your ask. It is okay to need help and it is okay to express the importance of that need. Instead of “If you are available, I might need help with grocery shopping,” say “My prescription is running low, can you pick up my refill from the pharmacy?”
  • Be prepared for “nos.” Not everyone will be able to help. Try not to take it personally. Do not get discouraged from asking other people, asking for different things, or asking at another time.

To help:

  • When you ask your loved one how you can help, use concrete ideas. “I’m heading to the market, can I get anything for you?"
  • Don't wait for someone to ask you for help. When you ask, make sure to do so at a time that is appropriate so they don't feel embarrassed or on the spot.
  • Recognize that just asking can make a difference. Even if your loved one rejects your offer, it may allow them to feel more comfortable asking for help in the future. If nothing else, it reminds them that you are available to support them if and when they need or want it.
  • Though frozen lasagnas are great, your loved one may already have five in the fridge. The greatest help can come in the smallest gesture. Perhaps you could help your loved one by picking up their mail for them instead.

When health events impact everyday routines for you or your loved ones, even the simplest of tasks can seem overwhelming. Combine that with the desire to not "be a burden" or "intrude" and we don't always ask for or offer help when it is most needed. Using these tips, you may find it a little easier to reach out even when it seems uncomfortable.