Hard Times: What to Say When Someone Asks "Can I help?"

“What can I do to help?”

I often feel like a deer in the headlights. I know my life is crumbling around me, but when people ask, “how can I help” I genuinely don’t know what to say. Maybe I hate feeling like a burden, maybe the first idea I think of seems too imposing, or maybe I would like to ask but just can’t think of what to say. I might think of something later, but it feels awkward to call them up and say “hey remember that offer of help?”

  • Starting with a “thank you so much for asking” can reduce feelings of awkwardness. And create a feeling of connection. And give you a moment to think.

  • A standard default request: “I would love to know that you are thinking/praying for me.”

  • Delay the request: “I can’t think of anything right now, but could you call me back in a week? Or could I call you back?” This way, if you do think of something you need at a later time, it won’t feel so strange to reach out.

  • Ask them to text you the offer of help, you can say: “My brain isn’t working great right now but I know in the coming weeks I will need help, will you text me so I can remember to reach out to you later?”

  • Giving a context for your request can help everyone feel like they have sense of purpose and connection to you and your struggles. For example “I’m really struggling to get dinner on the table (context), would you be willing to talk to our friend group and coordinate some meals”

  • Make a list: As you go throughout your day, as to-do items pop up, start jotting them down somewhere, post it notes, on your phone, in your calendar. Next time someone asks you can refer to your list.

  • Some ideas for connection/social needs: “I’ve been feeling lonely/sad/overwhelmed, I could use a hug/visit/night-out.”

  • It’s also okay to ask for emotional labor: “I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me wondering how we are but I’ve been too tired to update them, do you think you could reach out and let them know what’s going on?”

  • More chore types ideas: check in on my pets, help with housework, help with carpool & kid-taxi, a quick shopping trip, or some pressing yard work.

  • It can be hard to ask when what you really need is money to pay of medical bills. It can help to ask a close friend or relative to set up a crowd sharing service to refer people, and remember to include context in the request. “You know our medical bills are really piling up and it’s hard to make ends meet. My brother set up a YouSharing account if you’d like to help that way.”

I always try to remember that people are asking because it feels good for them to help, people want to feel like they are there for me in a time of struggle or sorrow. Many of us want to be the helper, not the helped, but we all have to take turns, and being the one who needs help provides many people with an opportunity to show love and to grow closer.

Lisa Butterworth, LPC, NCC

Lisa specializes in women's issues, faith transitions, sexual concerns, LGBT+ journeys, trauma, anxiety disorders, body image concerns, and depression. She offers both coaching/consultation and therapy services to individuals, couples and families.

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