Asking for help is hard for most people. We might worry about being a burden or that we’ll end up feeling indebted to someone. Other times we fear vulnerability, judgment or revealing things we’d rather keep private.
But at some point everybody needs to ask for help. And if you have a chronic illness, asking for help can be a matter of staying healthy or even surviving.
Consider some of these ideas to make asking for help a little easier.
Start with SMART communication.
Using honest and open, direct, or clear communication helps ensure the process goes smoothly. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, try the “SMART” technique—making your request specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-phased.
The strategy, often used in academic or business worlds to ensure requests or goals are effective, may feel excessive for simple favors. But knowing the philosophy can help improve the clarity of your communication during times when you’re too tired to think it through.
SMART requests cover most potential questions that could cloud a vague request, making them easier to respond to. For example, say you don’t have the energy to get to the store this weekend and your dog is almost out of food.
With that, you’ve given your friend a clear picture of how much energy the task would involve and on what timeline, helping him or her quickly decide without first working to understand what your request entails.
Will they refuse?
One common fear in asking for help is that the other person will decline, or if they agree to help, they might still feel burdened or resentful. Researchers at Columbia University looked into whether this fear has any grounding in a series of studies. They found most people underestimate how likely a person is to agree to help them by up to 50 percent.
Through further study, the Columbia researchers did learn that people experience some social pressure to help when asked. You can help counteract that by giving people an easy way to say “no.” Rather than asking simply: “Can you watch my kids for an hour or two Thursday afternoon while I am at the doctor?” You might add: “No pressure. If you have plans I will ask my in-laws.”
Explaining you have an alternative lessens the pressure they feel to say “yes”—so that both of you can be more confident about the authenticity of the final answer.
Help others when and where you can.
Most of us want our relationships to include a mixture of give and take. In times of trouble the balance shifts—and that’s how relationships are meant to work. But when your everyday long-term reality is illness, things might start to feel unbalanced. If this concerns you, talking is always a good place to start.
If you still want to do something to combat this feeling, try helping others when and where you can. Even just being explicit that you want to return their kindness anyway possible can help ease any tension of imbalance. These ideas for caring for your caregiver might help. Acts of gratitude can have a similar impact.
Don’t forget how far love, kindness and even flattery can get you. If you need help with childcare, you might mention how much your children love the person you request help from.
Only you know what you need.
Finally, the unfortunate reality of Western society’s emphasis on self-reliance may mean some people won’t respond to your requests with the decency you deserve. In those situations you can only do your best to recognize you can’t control someone else’s misperceptions—only your own attitude. Check out one person’s strategy on this at The Mighty.
Of course, sometimes finding help from a source outside of your network is necessary or easier. These kinds of requests for help—a free community meal, Social Security’s disability program, subsidized or paid child care, even assistance like Caring Voice Coalition—might even be easier knowing these organizations exist for the sole purpose of helping, and you alter no relationships by asking.
Hopefully these tips can help you feel more comfortable asking the next time you need a hand because of chronic illness.
To practice asking for help, try the “what, who and how” strategy from the Painiac podcast.
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