When you’re not doing so great, one of the most powerful steps you can take is really rather simple: ask for help. Sometimes that can feel easier said than done – we feel like we’re burdening someone else with our problems, and we don’t want to come across as needy or like we don’t have our lives on track.

But here’s a reality check – your friends and family care about you! Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you found out that a loved one had been going through a tough time, but hadn’t reached out for help?

Follow these steps next time you’re struggling mentally, and always remember that professional help is available for anyone who needs it.

1. Ask the right person

If you’re already worried about the way your friends or family will perceive your problems, then it’s even more important that you think carefully about who you’re reaching out to.

When times are tough, that buddy who never fails to get the party started may not be the first person you should call. Think about your network, and how they have responded in the past to emotional issues or a crisis – will they be sensitive or dismissive?

Ideally, you want to share and open up with someone who has given you good advice or support in the past, or who you’ve supported when they have been doing it tough.

2. Ask at the right time

Got someone in mind to speak to? Good. But before you unload, just take a minute to think about what they have going on at the moment. You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to back out, but if they are going through a big life change themselves (perhaps they just had a baby, or there was a recent loss in the family) they might not have the capacity to help you right now.

Once you’ve identified someone you think will be receptive, reach out by phone or send a message asking if they have time to chat with you. Set up a way to talk or meet where you won’t feel uncomfortable or stiff: sit with a coffee in the backyard, go for a walk in the park, or do a workout together if that helps you to relax and open up. Remember, this person cares about you and if they can help or offer support, they will.


3. Be clear on what you’re asking for

It can be helpful to go into a conversation with a plan in regards to what you want or need in terms of support. Write it down if it helps you stay on track.

  • Do you need someone to cover your responsibilities for just a couple of hours one day a week so you can use that time for self-care?
  • Are you looking for some empathetic tips on how they got through a crisis that you can put into action yourself?
  • Do you want help booking in to see a professional, and someone to support you through the process?
  • Do you just need someone to tell you that what you’re feeling is completely normal?

Be as clear as you can with what you’re asking of them, as any confusion could upset you both. Don’t know what you need, just know you need to vent? That’s okay. But if you’re not ready for practical help yet, let them know.

Now you’re ready to talk…

You’ve established your ‘who’, your ‘when’ and your ‘what’ – but WHY are you actually asking for help? No one knows you better than you know yourself, right? How could someone else possibly solve your problems?! Easy, legend. We’ll let science take it from here.

Neurologists have studied the impact of simply putting your feelings into words – the technical term is ‘affect labeling’ – and found that it can lower your emotional reactivity by calming your amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates your emotions and behavior and is responsible for that ‘fight or flight’ stress reaction.

Think about how having a big venting session with a colleague at work helped you get over it and get on with the job. Or when you didn’t know how to deal with something in your relationship, and you called a friend for advice? You were affect labeling, and you didn’t even know it.

And what if it doesn’t quite go to plan?

They got the wrong idea. You couldn’t say what you really mean. In other words, it didn’t go well. This can be upsetting, especially when you really had to work yourself up to ask for help in the first place.

Don’t give up, and don’t take it personally – people are complicated and don’t always know how to give us what we need, even if we ask clearly. Step back and do something positive and nourishing for yourself to recover. Meditation can help you to feel more centered and remind you how resilient you are.

Don’t forget, like any big challenge, you will get through this – future you is older and wiser and waiting for you on the other side – it may just take a couple of attempts to reach them.