Health and Wellness

Everyone needs help during the coronavirus pandemic—here's the psychological reason why asking for it is so hard

@Antonio_Gravante | Twenty20

From logistical issues, like finding someone to do your grocery shopping, to emotional ones, such as coping with anxiety and depression in isolation, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront an experience that can be strangely uncomfortable for many: asking for help.

This is not always an easy task, even outside of a pandemic, says M. Nora Bouchard, an executive and leadership coach and the author of "Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need." But believe it or not, this could be the perfect time to foster the skill.

"Now is actually an incredibly beautiful time, because you're seeing people reach out to each other to make the request and offer to help," Bouchard says. "So it's a bit easier for others to pick up those offers and say, 'Actually, I do need a little bit of help.'"

Here's why it can feel so challenging to ask for support, and how to get better at it.

The psychological reason why it's tough to ask for help

People are hardwired to want to do things on their own and be independent-minded, Bouchard says.

Asking for help often makes people feel uneasy because it requires surrendering control to someone else. "There are some people who really have a hard time with that piece of it," she says.

Another fear is being perceived as needy. "We don't want to be ashamed of our situation, or come across as incompetent," she says. "So we work really hard to make sure people don't see us this way." This idea is amplified during the Covid-19 crisis: You may feel that people have their own worries to take care of, so yours aren't significant.

Some people are also afraid that they'll be shunned or rejected if they ask for help. "We make a lot of excuses for not making the request," she says. The irony is that most often, people do want to help. "Our most natural response is to say, 'Sure, I can help you,'" she adds.

How to get better at asking for help

With practice, you'll get used to asking for help, Bouchard says. Taking opportunities to ask for help in smaller ways when you'd otherwise balk can really make a difference over time. For example, speaking up if you need help connecting to a video call, or asking a neighbor to pick up a food item you need on their next grocery run.

Another practical strategy is to reframe your request so it's a conversation, rather than a transaction, she says.

"It's not just saying, 'You help me,' it's, 'I've got a problem or challenge and I could really use your help. Let's talk it through and see what we can come up with together.'" Not only does that feel more respectful to the recipient, but it also allows you to develop a deeper connection with the person who you're asking for help, she says.

On that note, you should spend some time thinking about the friends, neighbors or family members in your life who you consider your "support team," Bouchard suggests. You can literally ask these individuals if it's okay that you count on them for support during this time.

"Try to create this team of helpers, so that asking for help later on when you really need it isn't such a big deal," she says.

Remember: Often people are willing to provide help. If someone doesn't have time or resources to help you, it's still a good idea to talk and explore how you can make something work for both of you, she says.

"It may be that the person that you're talking to can't help you, but they know someone who can," she adds.

Why it boosts your work performance

Beyond the emotion and logistics of living during the Covid-19 pandemic, people really need to rely on each other more than ever before at work, Bouchard says.

"People are frustrated that they can't give enough of themselves, but they feel stymied to a certain extent because they're not allowed to leave their home," she says. For example, you might be having trouble balancing homeschooling children while working from home, or communicating virtually at work.

So how do you ask for help at work?

"One of the nice things in business is that we actually have a system called delegation," she says. "If you have a team of people, you can delegate to them, and that's an acceptable way of asking for help." This requires having really wide-open lines of communication, especially when you're working remotely, she adds.

You can also create safer spaces for people to ask for help. Bouchard encourages people to have "mayday roundtables," in which you meet with your team and share something that you're working on, and any problems that you anticipate along the way. (This can be done virtually over video chat.)

The idea is that the roundtable levels the playing field, so no one feels singled out for asking for assistance. "It's amazing how much help is forthcoming just in those meetings," she says.

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