One sure-fire way to reduce stress quickly is to learn how to ask for help, but many of us balk at the idea, whether delegating tasks at work or asking family to pull their weight.
Remember the mental load? You’ve probably seen a brilliant illustration of the concept by the French comic artist Emma which was all over social media recently. Mental load, or cognitive labour, are the terms used to describe the web of invisible tasks involved in running a household.
Most of which, in heterosexual households, generally falls to women. From scheduling playdates and replenishing toothpaste to remembering family birthdays and organising holidays, studies show that women do more of these tasks than men, along with the lion’s share of housework and childcare.
But a heavy mental load creates more stress. If you feel under constant pressure from all the things you’re trying to remember to do, that’s the mental load taking its toll. The antidote is obvious – ask for help. And yet that’s far from easy.
Reasons why we resist asking for help – and how to overcome them
Knowing how to ask for help is surprisingly difficult for myriad reasons. These are the most common pitfalls and what you can do to get around them.
You feel you should be able to cope
If you’ve ever avoided asking someone for help because of a sense that you ‘ought’ to be able to cope, it’s likely that your ‘be perfect’ drivers are at play here. ‘Women often see asking for help as a sign of weakness because they believe they should be able to deal with everything life throws at them,’ explains counsellor and cognitive behavioural therapist Hilary Sims.
‘It’s easy to assume that everyone else is managing better because people generally don’t like to admit they’re struggling, but we all have times when we struggle to cope. Needing help just means you are human.’
To get past discomfort around asking for help, Hilary recommends dwelling less on what other people might think of you. ‘Would you judge a friend who asked for help? No, you’d gladly offer it,’ she says. ‘So why judge yourself for doing so?’
You don’t believe you’re worthy of someone’s help
Hesitation around asking for help can also stem from a lack of self-belief. If you don’t think you’re deserving of someone’s time or attention or think your needs are secondary to theirs, it can hold you back from accepting help.
Reframe seeking help as a strength rather than a weakness – a super power, even. Admitting that you need support of any kind is a brave thing to do. It’s braver still to ask for help, so recognise those as the achievements they are, suggests Hilary.
Think about how much we praise children for asking for help. If asking someone to help you with a task or take it off your plate would reduce stress, try channelling your inner child and trust that the people around you will be only too happy to help.
You’re assuming people will be inconvenienced
Remember that people generally love being asked for help. It’s flattering to know that someone trusts and relies upon you enough to seek your support. Being asked for help can make us feel trusted, validated and capable.
Asking for help at work might make someone feels their skills are recognised rather than overlooked. And far from creating resentment as you might fear, leaning on friends and family can actually strengthen bonds.