I was enjoying dinner with a cherished group of old friends when we began talking about how to help someone who is going through a health crisis. Specifically, we were talking about a friend of a friend who had recently been diagnosed with cancer but had found it difficult to reach out for help. This discussion led to an “aha” moment for me when I realized both how difficult and necessary it is to be able to receive help from others, particularly when crisis strikes in your life. Asking for, and accepting, help from others can be particularly troubling in our Western society which emphasizes individuality and independence as cultural values. Relying on others can often bring up feelings of shame, guilt and inadequacy. However, research has demonstrated that one’s perception of connectedness to their social network is a reliable indicator of well being (Cohen & Willis, 1985; Helgeson, 2002). As my friends and I discussed our experiences with both being the recipient of, and giver of, support, we reflected that it was very helpful as a support person to be able to offer something concrete to our loved ones during times of crisis. This also supports the well known relationship between giving to others and levels of happiness (Diener & Seligman, 2004).
Within our clinical practice we often see people in a state of crisis who have recently encountered extreme stressors such as a diagnosis of cancer or infertility or an accident that has resulted in ongoing disabilities. Central to our work as psychologists at the Rowan Center is helping our patients build and nurture robust support systems. I thought I would highlight some concrete ways to offer and ask for support. These are general ideas but would be applicable to most medical challenges such as surgery, cancer treatment, infertility treatment, or even the birth or adoption of a new child. I’ve been a recipient of many of these types of support and can attest to the power of having your place in the social circle affirmed by these concrete acts. At the opposite end, I also know that being able to offer support in specific ways has been very important to me during times of crisis in the lives of my friends.
Ways to offer support:
– Meal train (www.mealtrain.com)
– Help with transportation
– Offering to babysit
– Accompanying friends to Dr’s appointments
– Grocery shopping
– Walking the dog or caring for pets
– Taking out and bringing in the trash
– Gassing up the car
– Cleaning the house or hiring a cleaning service
– Scheduling a masseuse to come to the home
Ways to ask for support:
– Choose people you trust to ask for help
– Be specific about what would be helpful
-Be honest about what would not be helpful
– Remember that people in your life want to support you
– Reflect on times when you were able to help others that you love
– Join a support group for education and social support
– Though it can be difficult to accept support, try and say thank you and allow others to help you
– Make sure to connect to people directly rather than relying on Facebook or other social media posts
Though, in our individualist culture one of the most difficult things to do is accept help from others, remember to accept help with grace and be grateful for your friends and family. Receiving and giving help in times need cements the social bonds that help us to thrive in our lives.
Dr. Angela Williams is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in cognitive-behavioral and humanistic/existential approaches to therapy. She has extensive training in Brief Crisis Intervention as well as mindfulness based therapeutic approaches. Her therapeutic style blends strength-based acceptance with practical skill development. Incorporating mindfulness-based interventions, she helps her clients move through difficult experiences and be more present in their lives.
Cohen, S., & Willis, T.A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis, Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310-357
Diener, E., & Seligman, M. (2004). Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5 (1), 1-31.
Helgeson, V. S. (2002). Social support and quality of life. Quality of Life Research, 12 (1), 25-31