Ask and Accept: How to Get the Help We Need

Written by Francine Baffa, LICSW, BCBA-D 
Edited by Joe DeNoon


For many of us, the tendency to avoid asking for help has been strongly reinforced over time. We may live in cultures in which individual performance and independence are prized and their inverses denigrated, or it may just be an aspect of our personalities to give and give but never ask. Yet, what we must understand is the ability to ask for and obtain help is an invaluable skill for finding both success and comfort in all walks of life. This is a skill that we can hone, so what are the reasons to begin to practice? 

Over time, carrying the burdens we face alone without enough support can lead to burnout — the exhaustion resulting from the chronic stress of having too many demands and not enough resources or downtime. This is where learning to ask for help can improve things, as help is a resource available to us!  What’s more, a lack of perceived social support has been linked with poorer mental and physical health outcomes. It’s also a two-way street! Research shows that everyday acts of benevolence and connection can increase the well-being of both the giver and the receiver; this is especially important for those shift workers who have less opportunity to interact with others who are working daytime hours.

The help you need at any given time might range from something relatively minor — think covering a work shift or a word of advice — to something weightier — like help with caring for a child or support for a medical or mental health issue. No matter what the challenge is, recruiting help from others can save time and effort and provide real emotional support.

To get more comfortable reaching out for help, start with small asks that feel relatively manageable. You can also follow a helpful strategy and make SMART requests.

A SMART request is an acronym for an ask that is: Specific, Meaningful, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Before you reach out, it can be helpful to pause and think about EXACTLY what you need, what would help you make progress (action-oriented), what this person may be able to assist with (realistic), and when you need things by (time-bound).

Here are some examples:

  • Limit the number of consecutive night shifts.
  • Set adequate rest days between shifts, particularly after night shifts.
  • Tailor mental health support to the needs of shift workers.
  • Check-in with team members frequently.
  • Educate employees about sleep and mental health and encourage them to consult with their doctor if needed.

The SMART strategy can decrease feelings of being overwhelmed when you are unsure of how to get the help you need. This blueprint can be especially useful in settings like work environments, where you might need specific resources or skills from someone, but where asking for help may feel a little trickier or more formal. Try it out in the new year!

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