Feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders? I can totally relate. If the struggles of living in an overly busy, stressed out society weren’t enough, the fear of navigating it all mid-COVID is the proverbial icing on the cake.
Whether it’s the overwhelm of managing day-to-day tasks or deciding to get a handle on your mental or physical health, it can be hard to go it alone. Which leads me to the question: why do we feel compelled to do it all ourselves?
Do You Have a Do-It-All-Myself Mentality?
I ask my health coaching clients this question anytime I can feel them slinking back into their old patterns of avoiding asking for help. We sort of live by this notion that we should all be able to handle anything that comes our way. And if we can’t handle it ourselves, well, that’s a sure sign (at least in our own minds) that we’re weak, incompetent, or somehow unworthy of achieving success in that area. New health diagnosis? Sure, no problem. Relationship problems? Got it all under control. Global pandemic like we haven’t seen in our lifetime? No freakin’ sweat.
The trouble is, asking for help can bring up similar, uncomfortable feelings. Research done in the fields of neuroscience and psychology confirm that there really are social threats involved in doing so. In fact, researchers found that an emotionally painful threat activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain does — which of course gives us even more reason to avoid asking and continue struggling in silence.
Reasons You Avoid Asking for Help
You may avoid asking for help for several reasons:
You’re unsure where to turn
You don’t want to be seen as weak
Fear of being rejected
Not sure how to ask
Feeling like a burden
Worrying people won’t like you
Admitting you can’t do it all
Feeling like your problems are less significant
You grew up with a pattern of being let down in childhood
There’s no shortage of reasons why it feels hard to ask for help, but here’s where it gets wild. Studies show that people actually like helping other people — they get a huge benefit from it.12Nothing we do as humans proves to be as fulfilling as lending a hand to someone else.
To test this theory, researchers had participants write either a supportive note to a friend or write about their route to school or work before undergoing a lab-based stress task.3 Physiological responses like heart rate, blood pressure, salivary alpha-amylase, and salivary cortisol, as well as self-reported stress were collected and measured throughout the experiment. They found that participants who had written the supportive notes had lower sympathetic-related responses than their counterparts who just wrote about their routine.
Asking for help makes people like you more too. This concept is called the Benjamin Franklin effect and is based on cognitive dissonance theory,4 which refers to “a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.” Which, in real language, means that when a person does a favor for someone they don’t like (or feels neutral about), it creates a mismatched feeling between their actions and their attitude. To avoid cognitive dissonance, your mind essentially makes you believe that you must really value this person in order to do such a nice thing for them. When you ask someone for help, it builds likeability and trust, and starts to form a bond between you and the other person.
On top of that, asking for help makes you stronger. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to unapologetically ask for help when you need it. While that might feel outside of your comfort zone right now, I can tell you from personal experience that growth happens when you start to get comfortable with a little discomfort. Any time you force yourself to do something outside your norm, you become a stronger person for it.
How to Get Better at Asking for Help
Honestly, most people underestimate how willing people are to help them. It could from a limiting belief they have from their past. Or maybe it’s the negative self-talk that creeps up now and then. Or perhaps you’ve had some less-than-awesome people in your life that literally weren’t able or willing to help you. Even if those scenarios ring true for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t get better at asking for the help you need. Keep in mind that these are for non-emergency situations. If you need immediate help, please reach out to a crisis hotline.
Here’s a quick look at different ways you can make asking for help easier. Hang tight, I’m going to unpack these strategies down below.
Make small requests
Ask people you trust
Be clear about what you’re asking
Focus on the end result
Remove any judgement
1. Make small requests.
Big asks can feel daunting, especially at first. So, start by getting comfortable with making smaller ones. Ask your significant other to cook up a pan of eggs and bacon in the morning. Or get your kids to walk with you so you stay on track. Seeing yourself ask for — and receive help gets the ball rolling on building your confidence in this area.
2. Ask people you trust.
The risk of being rejected or dismissed drops dramatically when you request help from people you have a solid rapport with. It’s much less scary to be vulnerable with your spouse or family members than it is with your boss or the new guy at work.
3. Be clear about what you’re asking.
Assuming people know what you need is the fastest way NOT to get it. Sure, it would be great if people immediately offered to help the second the thought entered your mind, but that’s not how it works. Instead, get clear on what you’re struggling with and what exactly you could use help with (i.e. I’m following the Primal Blueprint, so please don’t bring home donuts). The more you practice asking for help directly, the easier it gets.
4. Focus on the end result.
Imagine for a minute that you got all the help you needed. What benefit would that bring you? Would you be less stressed out? Less grumpy? Less apt to skip your workout? By focusing on the outcome, you take the attention away from the uncomfortable feeling of asking and put it on the fantastic feeling of having gotten the help you need.
5. Remove any judgement.
Don’t assume you know what people are thinking about you. It’s so easy to presume that you’re a burden or being perceived as weak when you ask for help, but you have no clue what’s going through their mind. Also, don’t compare your struggles to someone else’s. Everyone processes things differently and at different paces.
And remember, you can always hire a professional to help — in practically any area of your life. That’s what we’re here for!
Are you good at asking for help? Or is it something you struggle with? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.