“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” – Ronald Reagan
It’s an essential element of physical and mental health: having a strong support system.
Research shows that being able to turn to family and friends in times of need is linked to better health and even a longer life. Having a supportive network also helps to protect you against developing mood disorders and post traumatic stress. That’s partly because social support helps people cope better with stress.
When you become sick, you really need all the support you can get. You probably feel overwhelmed by the painful sensations and rollercoaster of emotions. Not too mention that you may not be able to perform everyday tasks like cleaning your home or even getting dressed anymore.
But asking for help – and accepting it gracefully – is not always easy. Maybe you feel embarrassed to admit you need help. Or perhaps you’re scared of letting go of control over your life. Even if you do reach out for support, there’s the whole logistics of organizing practical support when you have to rely on helping hands a lot.
So when it comes to asking for help – and getting it – how can you make things as easy as possible? Take a look at 6 steps to mobilize your support system when you need help.
1. Take inventory: What kind of help do you need?
There are 3 kinds of social support:
- Emotional support. You know how you instinctively reach for the phone to call your mom after a really bad day? We all need someone who listens to our problems, empathizes and gives us a comforting hug. With emotional support, your family or friends also encourage you and let you know they believe in you.
- Informational support. Do you need advice on which steps to take next? Informational support helps you to gather useful information and exchange helpful suggestions on how to tackle your problems.
- Instrumental support. When your neighbor brings you a home cooked meal or offers to take your kids to school, that’s a form of instrumental support. Instrumental support encompasses all kinds of practical help, from providing materials to offering services or even financial aid.
The first step to mobilizing your support system is to get clear on which kind of help you need. Are you looking for someone to call when you’re feeling upset or to keep you company during those long, boring sick days? Or do you require more practical assistance?
When you get seriously ill, doing everyday things like household chores and self-care may suddenly become impossible to do. If you need practical help, here are some things to consider:
- Is there another way for you to perform these jobs yourself? Maybe you can order your groceries and other shopping online, or you can use strategies to make cooking meals less energy-consuming.
- Which tasks could you easily delegate to your housemates or live-in family members? Perhaps your kids, partner or flatmate can take over chores like doing the dishes and walking the dog.
- What do I need outside help with? If you’re too sick to drive and your partner’s at work, you may need a helping hand when it comes to picking up the kids from school or going to hospital appointments.
When you’re taking inventory, it also helps to take a closer look at your own motives. If you’d like someone to go with you on doctor’s visits, are you simply looking for a ride to the hospital or do you want a health advocate or someone to comfort you afterwards? Communicate your needs clearly to avoid false expectations, disappointment or fallouts.
2. Who’s able and willing to help, and what are their strengths?
Sit down with your family and friends to openly talk about what you need and what they can give. Don’t take it personal if someone close to you isn’t able to help out much. Everybody has their own busy lives and problems to handle.
Besides looking at who’s willing and able to help, you could also think of people’s natural strengths. For example, your domestic goddess friend would probably be happy to bring you freezer meals, while your assertive brother would make a good health advocate.
Your support system doesn’t have to be restricted to your closest friends and family. You could also approach your extended community like colleagues, neighbors or fellow church members if they’d be willing to lend a hand. Perhaps there are support groups of buddy systems in your area too for emotional support. And don’t forget to look into social benefits and the available help offered by community-based services.
3. Be specific when you ask for help
“Let me know if I can help.” It’s probably one of the most uttered phrases when people see their loved ones struggling. No matter how much they care, others often don’t know what to say or do to offer tangible support. So when someone genuinely asks you ‘How can I help?’, don’t be afraid to take them up on their offer and be specific.
You could say, ‘Well, I’m struggling with insurance paperwork/washing my hair/doing groceries, is there any way you can lend a hand? That way, your friends and family can be clear about whether that’s the kind of help they can offer. Also communicate whether it’s a one-time request or if you need help on a regular basis.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”- Aesop
4. Use tools to receive and organize support
If you need a lot of practical support from different people, it could be helpful to manage all those ‘appointments’ with apps. Lotsa Helping Hands offers a central place to easily coordinate help for someone in need. Within your connected community of family and friends, you can post updates and specific requests for support in a shared calendar. The app even sends reminders so nothing falls through the track.
You can also make use of technology to get the emotional support you need. For example, The Mighty and the Riley app connect you with people facing (similar) health problems and disabilities. Or you could virtually get together with other women with chronic illness to chat about books, cooking or travel in The Tired Girl Society.
5. Talk openly how to avoid and handle potential problems
When you rely heavily on others for support, you’re likely to run into problems at some point. What if your caregiving friend has to cancel your plans or there’s friction between the two of you?
As hard and confronting as it can be, it’s important to talk about how you could avoid or handle potential problems – preferably before they occur.
One common problem of longterm care-taking is finding that delicate balance between accepting help and maintaining a sense of independence. When you depend on others, you might feel powerless or guilty, or you may get irritated that things aren’t done the way you would do them. On the other hand, your friends and family could be at risk for caregiver burnout. Because no matter how much they love helping you, caregiving can be overwhelming and tiring too.
To best avoid these issues, talk openly with your supporters at the first signs of potential problems. That way, you can search for solutions that work best for both of you.
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Teresa
6. Be a good friend too
Social support isn’t a oneway street. Even if you’re the one who needs help, you can still be supportive in different ways.
Although you’re probably absorbed by your own problems – and that’s ok! – take an interest in your friends’ lives. Remember important dates and events. Listen to their stories and be happy for them. You can be happy for your friend and sad for your own missing-out at the same time.
Also, don’t forget to be ‘just friends/spouses/mother and daughter’. Get out of the caregiving dynamics once in a while by doing something fun together. Even if you can’t do any of the things you used to do, you can probably find not-too straining fun activities you could try on a good day.
What’s more, something as simple as learning to say ‘thank you instead’ of ‘I’m sorry’ could have a positive effect on your changing relationship dynamics.
But most of all, show your appreciation for their ongoing support. Because a true friend who stands by you through it all is a richness money cannot buy.
How do you mobilize your support system and ask for help?
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