Before we go any further with this piece, I have to say something really important first: You. Are. Amazing. And I mean that. I want to commend you for all of the hard work that you’re doing to put yourself in a place that feels healthy and happy. And even if you feel like you’re not doing much, you’re clearly doing something by reading this in the first place.
And wanting to get support from your loved ones is a really smart step toward taking care of yourself.
But when we’re struggling — and on top of that, often times not feeling like we deserve love and care in our lives — it can be really hard to even know how to approach someone for help.
So, when it comes to asking for support, I have a three-step plan.
1. Create a Support System
Remember that we all need systems of people to help us in our lives, rather than a small handful of people. So think about who can help you and how they can help you.
For example, maybe one friend is really awesome at cheering you up when you’re feeling down, but isn’t really great at helping you talk through solutions — but maybe you have a cousin or something who’s good at that!
Maybe your mom is awful at remembering that sometimes, you just want someone to tell you, “Yeah, that sucks,” rather than trying to help you solve the issue — but she’s really great at cooking you comfort food.
Think about who you could go to with different needs, based on who could fulfill them the best. And write them down so you don’t forget. That way, when you’re in a place of mental disarray, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into remember who you can go to.
Pro tip: Include folks like medical and mental health professionals — if you have access to them — on your list.
2. Ask for Specific Things
“Can you help me right now?” doesn’t really give the person you’re asking an idea of what, exactly, you need. But when you’re in a place of emotional desperation, it can be really hard to think of what you need specifically.
It can help, then, to draw up a list at a time when you’re feeling more up than down — that way, you can refer to it when needs be. This list can either use a formula like “When I feel _____, I might need _____” or it can simply be a list of different needs that you might have, along with two or three people in your life who you might be able to rely on to give you those things.
But make sure that when you’re asking for support, you let the person know what you’re looking for: “Can you come over and give me a hug, and then watch Netflix with me, but not try to talk to me about why I’m sad?” or “Would you mind bringing some food over to me, or ordering some on my behalf, because I’m having a bad day and can’t get out of bed?”
That helps people know what you need so that they can give it to you, rather than both of you flailing around, confused about which steps to take.
3. Have a Self-Care Plan in Place
Remember that your first line of defense is, well, you!
This is important to remember in any context, but it’s especially important when thinking about asking for support from folks. Because the truth is, sometimes, no one will be there for you. And that isn’t because people don’t love you or want to be there for you. Sometimes, people really just aren’t available. And we have to stay prepared for that.
So whether on the front end (practicing self-care as a way to help yourself before it gets too bad) or the back end (practicing self-care when it’s already gotten bad, but no one is there to help), it’s necessary to have a plan in place.
So think up what you can do for yourself when the going gets rough.
And if you want my advice? Number one on your self-care list can be remembering to thank yourself for all of the hard work that you’re already putting forth to feel better. Because that’s brave as hell, and you deserve the credit.