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5 Therapist-Backed Tips to Make Asking for Help Easier

By Kaitlin Vogel
September 22, 2022

Whether you're juggling too many responsibilities at work or just need to ask an actual person for directions, it can be difficult to ask for help—even when you really need it. “Many of us got the message growing up that self-reliance and independence equaled success and strength,” says Julia Loewi, M.S.W., R.S.W., a psychotherapist in Ontario, Canada. “As a result, many of us get caught in a vicious cycle."

We avoid asking for help because it feels like admitting failure. "Asking for help equals failure, failure equals shame, and shame equals avoidance," Loewi says. "And the longer we avoid asking for help, the more insurmountable it seems.”

Add to that fears of judgment, rejection, and letting others down, and it's not surprising that some may try to go it alone, no matter how difficult that may be. And often, even if we realize forgoing help isn't sustainable over the long term, we may not be able to find the words to make such requests, Loewi adds.

5 Tips to Make It Easier to Ask for Help

If you need an extra hand on a project at work, want to open a dialogue with your significant other about more evenly distributing the invisible labor in your household, or simply want to make a habit of speaking up for extra support when needed, these tips may help.

1. Start Small

The more you ask for help, the easier it will become. Beginning with simple requests—like asking a co-worker who's going on a coffee run to pick you up something, or asking a salesclerk for help making a return—may help you build the momentum you need to seek support on a more frequent basis.

“We don't learn to drive by going on the highway, and when possible, we should approach asking for help the same way,” Loewi says. “Make a smaller request for help, even if you don't necessarily need it. Practice builds confidence.”

And the more you practice in your day-to-day life, the more it will feel like second nature when you’re urgently in need of a helping hand.

2. Consider Who, What, and When

We don't always get to pick and choose when we need help, like when you’re having trouble at the gas pump or your dog slipped out the back door. Odds are, you’ll ask whoever’s nearby and is ready and willing to lend a hand.

But if you do have a little more say over the logistics behind your ask, exercise that control. Timing is a crucial factor to take into account, as well as the setting. You may hold off on asking a friend for work advice when they just lost their job and look to a family member or mentor instead.

It’s also important to consider the current capacity of the person you’re turning to for assistance. Do they have multiple obligations at this time? Would they be able to give you the support you need and deserve? You may have identified just the right person to come to your aid—or you may need to consider someone else.

3. Skip the Sugar Coating

When asking for help, you may feel like you need to sweeten the deal—in part to counter your own guilt, but also to make the other person feel like they’re getting something out of it. However, asking for help doesn’t need to be transactional (and if the person you’re looking to for support insists that it is, you may want to look elsewhere). All you need to do is be direct and to the point.

Loewi advises against text or email when possible, as they often lack nuance and can lead to miscommunication. Instead, talk face to face or over the phone, and avoid being overly wordy so your request doesn’t get lost in translation.

4. Get Clear on Your Needs

Before reaching out to seek support, it may be helpful to first look inward. Taking a step back and engaging in some self-reflection to truly understand not just what you want but also what you need may help you more clearly communicate your request and increase the chances that you receive the help you want in the way that would be the most…well, helpful.

Consider this example from Loewi: You just went through a breakup and you want your friend’s support and encouragement to help you move on. She shows up with some wine, tissues, and chocolate, ready to keep you company for a weekend of wallowing. Although you realize her gesture is incredibly kind, it also dawns on you that what would actually help is some positive distraction and a weekend free of mentions about your ex.

“That friend would be giving you the help you asked for, but unbeknownst to her, it would not be the help you needed,” Loewi explains. Save yourself and your support system the trouble by thinking through the kind of advice, guidance, or reassurance that would truly make a difference.

5. Lean into Gratitude

Many of our experiences and relationships in life are sustained through gratitude. Asking for help is no exception. Your appreciation won’t just make someone else feel good; long-standing research suggests that it may make them more likely to help in the future.

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