Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent. It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence. ~Anne Wilson Schaef
The holidays can be a time a very stressful time for anyone. For those in the midst of a cancer diagnosis or treatment, it can be even more difficult to navigate this time of year. Asking for help when you need it can make all the difference, but it isn’t always easy to do. Here are some strategies for asking for what you need.
Learn to Connect with Yourself
You can’t ask for help if you don’t know you need it. A good way to recognize you’re having a tough time and could use assistance is to start connecting with yourself. Most of us don’t know we are in need of help until a crisis sets in and we are in a place of desperation. Checking-in with yourself on a regular basis and taking the temperature of your life can help you recognize cues that some extra support might come in handy (like if you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious about small things, extra irritability or anger, feeling helpless or hopeless and dropping the ball on responsibilities or tasks). Taking an honest look at yourself requires you to put your ego aside, which is not easy to do because we don’t like to be seen as vulnerable.
Asking for help is often a mind-over-matter situation. Culturally, we are programmed to believe that self-reliance is the key to being a strong resilient person. We value the idea that solving our own problems or meeting our goals independently is virtuous and indicative of “good character.” It is this mentality that creates anxiety and the initial barrier to asking for help. In fact, a 2008 study from Cornell found that subjects underestimated the likelihood that others would agree to a direct request for help by as much as 50 percent, which means we don’t even believe that asking will yield positive results. The only way to reverse this pattern of thinking is to believe that we all need to ask for help at some point. This will also foster intimacy and closeness with people in our lives by inviting a reciprocal process of support.
Who to Ask
Normally, when we need help, we tend to go to the people who are closest to us like family or a best friend. However, sometimes these are not the people who are able step up in a crisis and that can feel like a huge disappointment. But we can also look at it as an opportunity to forge new friendships. It provides those well-meaning neighbours with something “to do” and builds your community. Taking this risk can pay off in the long run because as they say, “more hands make less work.”
Ways to Ask
In person or on the phone is often the best way to convey what you need, but this may not be ideal if you are not feeling up to it. Texting or emailing is enough but be sure to be clear about what you need when writing it down. If there are many things that you need help with, consider having a point person to coordinate for you with a group email or text. There are several digital platforms that can help organize large groups HERE or consider using a Google group calendar.
Things to Consider
The Thank You
It seems simple enough, but don’t miss the opportunity to thank your helper. Depending on your situation, a text will do but a card or handwritten note goes a long way. Be authentic and genuine in what the help meant to you and your family. People often wonder if there is an expectation to buy or send anything, but you do not need to show your gratitude with a gift.
Pay it Forward
If there is one thing that can help you learn to ask for help and know where to look, it’s to offer help of your own. You can also do this by sharing your knowledge and experience with someone who needs it which will likely increase your chances that it will come back around when you need it.
When you pay it forward, you often learn a lot about yourself, your ego and your needs, which is essential to learning how to ask for help in the first place. Then the cycle begins again, and we can all continue to improve and evolve as compassionate people.
When in Crisis
Sometimes we do get to a place where we are in crisis and this can be hard over the holidays when people are tied up. Luckily, there are some great crisis lines and help centres for people who desperately need to connect, listed below. Remember that you are never alone, and that help is just a phone call away:
- Crisis Centres Across Canada
- Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Helpline
- Cancer Support Helpline
- Cancer Connection
For more stories on getting through the holidays, click here.