Reaching out to others is one of the most helpful ways to get through a difficult time. But “why didn’t they tell me?” is such a common phrase when we talk about suicide or mental health challenges that it seems many of us don’t know how to reach out. And after a recent episode of my own anxiety, I was hesitant to tell anyone that I was struggling, partly because I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. I didn’t know what to ask for or who could help me. Consequently without knowing what to express, it felt too complicated to reach out. This type of communication skill is one that everyone needs in order to better navigate difficult emotional situations, yet it’s not easily clear on how to do that. So I want to get more specific and provide some suggestions on what asking for help can look like.
“I’m feeling (insert feeling). I’m not sure what I need, but I do know I don’t want to be alone right now.”
During an emotional period you may struggle to pinpoint what could help, especially when all you can think about is how much you’re hurting. That’s okay. It shouldn’t discourage us from reaching out. Start with sharing how you’re feeling. And let them figure out ways to help you.
“What I have been doing to manage my mental health isn’t working. Can you help me come up with a better plan?”
Think about those in your life that are good researchers and planners. They’ll get excited to help, which can lead to figuring out new ways to managing your emotions.
“I’m in a bad head-space right now, but I’m not ready to talk about it. Can you help distract me?”
If you’re not quite ready to talk about what’s bothering you, you don’t have to. You still can reach out for help and connect with someone. It can be a good way of letting someone know you’re having a rough time, without feeling too vulnerable. And now that they know you’re in need of extra support, they’ll show up to help you through it.
“I know we don’t talk much, but I’m going through a rough time. I feel like you’re someone I can trust. Are you free to talk?”
This type of statement helps you build more of a support network. If you don’t have someone that you can confide in, it can help start to build that type of relationship. They may not be able to help you, but you may be surprised by the responses you get.
“I haven’t been doing well. Can you text me in the evenings to make sure I’m okay? It would really help me.”
Asking for a frequent check-in can be super helpful for everyone involved. It can be as small as a text message but it can help us stay connected. It helps know that someone else is thinking of you and humans need frequent connection.
“I’ve been feeling very self-critical lately. Can you share something positive about me?”
How many times a day do we criticize ourselves? If our brains only hear those thoughts, it can be very challenging to think of anything else. Ask someone you love for a reminder of why you are so wonderful. It’s okay to ask for a reminder because that can help you replace the criticizing thoughts with more supportive ones.
“I feel crappy about the behaviors I’ve used to help manage my emotions. I need extra support right now. Can you meet with me?”
Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are disorders of emotional distress. And the behaviors associated are ways to decrease the intensity of an unwanted emotion. Typically the behaviors only help for a short period of time. Reach out, even if you’ve already used behaviors. Listen to that voice telling you still need help. If someone is reaching out to you after they have used behaviors, don’t focus or judge the behavior. Ask them if they want to talk about the behavior. If not, let it be.
Give people the chance to help you. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness.
I don’t know how it started and not sure why it’s still a common theme. But reaching and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. We should start saying over and over: reaching out is a sign of strength. Social connections impacts personal resilience and helps you get through emotional trauma.
Be strong and reach out for help.
If you’re struggling and are in need of connection, it’s never too late to let someone know. It’s never too much, too complicated, too anything to ask for help. Don’t go along this journey alone. Surround yourself with people who can offer assistance along the way.
If you don’t struggle with reaching out for help, teach and encourage others. Share this post with them or share ways they can reach out to you.