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How to Ask for Help

Asking for or accepting help (even when it’s offered) can be difficult to do. For many, just admitting that you need help can feel like a failure. But caring for a loved one can be a bigger commitment than a full-time job. Not only is caregiving a weighty physical time commitment, but it is also an equally heavy, if not heavier, emotional commitment.

As a caregiver, you are at a higher risk than the general population for severe exhaustion, overwhelm, burnout, anxiety, depression, and more. Knowing when you need help with your caregiving responsibilities is not a sign of weakness - in contrast, it’s a sign of strength. If you’ve realized that you need backup to manage your caregiving responsibilities, this article will walk you through how to ask for help.

7 Reasons You May Avoid Asking for Help

65% of caregivers do not receive consistent help from other family members. There are a handful of reasons you may have, up until this point, avoided asking for help. These are the common roadblocks caregivers face when deciding how and when to ask for help:

  • You’re afraid they’ll say, “no” to your request for help

  • It feels vulnerable to ask for help

  • You don’t know what kind of help you want or need

  • You’re not sure how to ask for help

  • You don’t want to bother them with your request

  • You feel guilty that you need help because you feel you should be able to handle it all

  • It feels like asking for help is a sign of weakness or failure

If any of these reasons resonate with your experience, this article is for you.

How to Know When You Need Help

You may feel that you have everything under control without outside help. Even if you’re currently able to meet all of your loved one’s needs, you may not be meeting your own needs. Here are some signs that it’s time to ask for help:

  • You don’t have time for friends or family outside of care

  • You’re sleeping fewer hours than normal for you

  • Your sleep is often interrupted with anxious thoughts or worry

  • You feel helpless, exhausted, or wonder if you’re having an impact

  • You have started feeling as though you no longer have the emotional capacity to care about your loved one as much, and may feel guilty about it

  • You have started to get sick more often or feel your health is starting to decline

  • You’re more frequently short-tempered, angry, or resentful of the person in your care

  • You have started to lose interest in things you once enjoyed

How to Ask for Help

The process of asking for help can feel like the most overwhelming part. Our goal with this article is to make it a little bit easier for you.

Step 1: Assess your needs

The first thing you should do is take a look at the tasks that take your time and energy. Evaluate the things that take a disproportionately high amount of either to see where someone’s help could add the most value. On the other hand, are there any tasks that give you a disproportionate amount of joy? Those are worth noting as well.

Step 2: Ask for Help

This is the hard part. Asking for help, especially from family, can require a bit of care. Here are some tips to make the request go as smoothly as possible:

Be Direct

When asking for help, it can be tempting to “beat around the bush” so to speak. Instead of masking your request within a sandwich of good news and imprecise language, try a more direct approach.

When you talk around the request, (saying things like, “I wish I had some help sometimes”), your actual request for their help may get lost in the conversation. Instead, describe the situation honestly. Say things like, “I haven’t had time to exercise in weeks and could use your help with a grocery run this week.”

Be Realistic

If you’ve realized you need quite a bit of help, it’s important to remain realistic. Your family and friends have commitments as well, and may not be able to fulfill all of your needs. You can request help, in that case, from multiple people, or look to hire respite to fill the gaps.

Avoid Guilt

As is the case in many family caregiver situations, if you’ve become the primary caregiver, you may feel resentful of the siblings/relatives that aren’t pulling equal weight. While it’s important that you voice your feelings, piling guilt onto your loved ones may cause them to avoid the situation entirely.

Treat your loved ones as valuable members of the care team. For the best results, let them know how impactful their help would be and look to build them up instead of tearing them down.

Make it Easy to Help You

Finally, make it easy for others to help you. Here are a few ideas for how to do that:

  • Open communication - maintain an open line of communication that keeps your family informed of your care schedule and tasks. Documenting things like routines, doctor’s appointments, medication instructions, etc. can make it easy for someone to step in when they’re able.

  • Be flexible - people are more likely to help with tasks that align with their skills and interests. Not everyone likes to or is comfortable with cooking, for example, so it can be helpful to offer a range of tasks and let people help where they feel best suited.

  • Be specific - if you have a specific request for help, be specific about it. Instead of saying, “I could use help with transport this week,” say, “I need help with this week’s grocery run. Can you take mom to the store at 9AM on Wednesday? Here is a grocery list.”

  • Learn to say yes when someone offers help or says some variation of, “let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

Closing Thoughts

It’s important to recognize that there is no weakness in asking for help. You are worthy of help, and you are in control of what kind of help you accept. Caregiving is not worth expending your health, so feel confident in your requests for assistance.

If you are a family caregiver, the California Caregiver Resource Center of Orange County is here for you. ​​We invite you to check out our free resources for family caregivers by clicking here or call us at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you.


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