Aleteia

How to ask for help in difficult times (and why you should)

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It’s hard to admit we don’t have it all together, but doing so is a virtue.

Let’s be real. The last six months have been hard. We’ve been going through a worldwide pandemic that has caused a cascade of effects ranging from unemployment and housing instability to social isolation and depression. Our stress levels are at epic highs as our country grapples with collective uncertainty, unrest, and anxiety. 

We keep going, because life continues. And we talk about it endlessly … COVID, masks, protests, Zoom, school, hand sanitizer … sometimes we even yell at each other in all caps on Twitter and Facebook. Discussing facts and asserting opinions makes us feel like we have some sense of control in an uncontrollable situation, which is comforting — and distracting. It distracts us from all the things we’re not talking about, and helps us pretend (maybe even believe) that we have it all together. 

The truth is, most of us don’t have it all together. I certainly don’t. And as the school year looms and we watch districts grapple over in-person or remote learning, I’ve realized that pretending to have it all together isn’t going to do any of us a favor. We’re all going to need help — practically, emotionally, and spiritually. But knowing that you need help and asking for help are two very different things.

As Americans, the virtues of self-reliance and personal responsibility are baked into our national subconscious. We’re proud of our individualism and pride ourselves in our ability to bootstrap our way through even the most difficult circumstances. Asking for help feels like weakness, because admitting we can’t do it on our own often triggers shame. But the truth is that asking for help is an active virtue. Our relationships are the biggest gift God has given us. We are literally hardwired for connection, and both admitting we need help and letting someone help us are among the most vital forms of human connection. Here are three ways to ask for and receive help in the key areas of your life. 

1
Practical help

This is the easiest place to start, because there’s generally less fear of admitting that you physically can’t be in 12 places at once. No one can work full-time (from home or otherwise) while also supervising remote education, plus doing all the other tasks involved in running a household (which, as we all know, are tripled when everyone is home all the time).

If you feel that you should be capable of this, remember that bilocation requires sainthood, and embrace the virtue of asking others for help. Find a fellow parent in a similar situation and ask if they’d be willing to set up a neutral-space remote learning environment for your kids, preferably outdoors (think park with picnic tables). Invest in hotspots, and take turns overseeing education while the other works.

If you have to work at your office and can’t afford the many (expensive) options popping up, trust your close friends or family members enough to admit your dilemma. Ask for help if they can give it, or advice if they can’t. And if they offer assistance that feels too generous (like paying for a learning pod), remember that humility is a virtue. Practice humility and accept their offer, while at the same time giving them a gift in return: the opportunity to practice the virtue of generosity.

2
Emotional help

Isolation and lack of social connection are the cause of clinical depression. If you’re thinking, “Oh, maybe that’s what’s wrong with me,” welcome to the club. Clinical depression is now practically universal, to the degree that psychiatrist are being forced to modify their evaluations of patients to separate general pandemic depression from severe, life-threatening despair.

Further complicating the situation is the fact that one the primary treatments for depression — social connection — is off the table. I’m saying this because it’s imperative to know that it’s okay to not be okay. You are not alone — I’m right there with you, along with basically the rest of our nation. Give yourself the grace to acknowledge that God designed us to need social support and companionship. Being isolated has measurable, physiological effects — it’s not all in your head!

Asking for help isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential to staying healthy, both mentally and physically. Whether that’s scheduling a regular coffee date (outdoors and socially distanced) with your best friend or finding a therapist to talk with, asking for emotional support is a way of honoring your body as a temple of Christ, and caring for it accordingly.

3
Spiritual help

If you find yourself questioning God, doubting, or despairing, just remember one thing: even Jesus felt these things, and when he did, he asked for help from his friends. Our Savior surrounded himself with his disciples as the crucifixion grew closer, seeking both emotional support and spiritual sustenance. He wept in prayer, sweating blood as he admitted his fear and doubt to God. He asked for God to take the coming suffering and death from him even as he accepted God’s will.

If the Son of God had no qualms about asking for spiritual help, we definitely have no reason to feel ashamed to do the same. This time is hard and we don’t know how long it will last, but we do know that God will never leave us or forsake us. He’s given us tangible means of spiritual support, even during this time.

Many of us can’t go to Mass and receive Christ in the Eucharist, but we can ask a spiritual mentor or trusted friend to meet us regularly on Zoom to pray and connect. We can watch Mass broadcast from anywhere in the world, and receive Christ in spiritual communion with our brothers and sisters. And we can pray, using prayers from the lives of saints in pandemics past to unite ourselves spiritually with God our Father and the saints in heaven.

Use any and all means available to you to seek spiritual support and encouragement in imitation of Christ, and have peace in the knowledge that the body of Christ is united in spiritual communion.

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