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4 Tips to Make Asking for Help Easier for Caregivers

Female caregiver helping her loved one out of bed, feeling happier as she has learned to ask for caregiving help
Getty Images / FG Trade

A caregiver's responsibilities don't just vanish when they need a vacation. That's why asking for help (and getting it) can be a lifeline. 

Today, Susanne White explores why it can be so hard for caregivers to ask out for help. Read her 4 invaluable tips for learning to let go and delegate tasks when you need a rest. 

Let's face it, most of us hate asking for help or turning the caregiving of our loved ones over to someone else. 

Or, if we're lucky (or brave or tired) enough to admit we need help, we still have a hard time delegating and letting go. 

Why caregivers have difficulty asking for help

If you think about it, our aversion to asking for help is pretty weird. 

We've all grown up hearing sayings such as, "It takes a village to raise a child," "A problem shared is a problem halved," "Many hands make light work," and even (ugh), "Teamwork makes the dream work." 

As clichéd and overused as these sayings are, they all point towards the importance of cooperation to survive and thrive. 

As humans, we're hardwired to be social animals. We're assigned our "groups" from birth (families, towns and cities, countries). We depend on others, such as parents, to help us develop into adjusted, functioning adults. Without basic nurturing, none of us would survive. 

As adults, we have the tools to "survive" in isolation, but we very rarely "thrive." Science shows us that social isolation is damaging both mentally and physically.

You may be reading this and thinking, "But I have plenty of friends. I'm not alone." If that's the case - great! But do you ask these friends for help when you need it? Or do you show up, smile, and keep your struggles to yourself? 

Humans are hardwired for communication, bonding, and cooperation. So, why does asking for help feel like a weakness rather than a natural instinct? 

3 Reasons why we’re scared of being vulnerable

1. Survival of the fittest

As much as humans are hardwired to be social creatures, "survival of the fittest" (SotF) means we've spent thousands of years optimizing ourselves for living as long as possible. 

So, in times of extreme peril, the "weakest" members of the group would get left behind or shunned. Although this action plan supported us throughout the ages, it's not a particularly helpful attitude to have now. Especially as modern society strives to not leave anyone behind.

After all, isn't a caregiver's (usually voluntary!) role in protecting the vulnerable and keeping them safe?

Still, SotF is so ingrained within us, we equate asking for help with weakness. Or, in a caregiver's case, "not up to the job." We're afraid of looking needy or being a burden. Sometimes, we feel our problems aren’t “significant enough” to warrant help, and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves by asking for it.

2. We live in a competitive world 

A little competition is never a bad thing. Being exposed to competition early on helps us build vital skills such as determination, resilience, and focus when we're children. Sustained exposure to competition helps us realize we can't just give up when we fail. 

However, too much competitiveness can become destructive and toxic. "Loser" continues to be one of the most hurtful labels of today, and we pile unnecessary pressure on ourselves to be considered winners. 

As caregivers, we may swing between wanting to be "perfect" and feeling like we're "not good enough." But both states prevent us from asking for help, even when we need it. Instead, we use variations of the following three excuses again and again:

  1. A "perfect" caregiver doesn't need to ask for help. 
  2. A "not good enough" caregiver doesn't deserve help.
  3. Asking for help will somehow expose the weaknesses of the "not good enough" caregiver, leading to judgment from friends and family.

Whatever the excuse we choose that day, all act as defense mechanisms against perceived rejection. It's not healthy - for our loved ones or us. 

3. Asking for help means surrendering control 

A popular saying goes, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." 

In other words, other people aren't reliable enough to depend on. Or, if someone does put in the effort, the job won't be done the way YOU want (which is the right way, obviously!). 

When people are scared or insecure, asserting control makes them feel safer. As a result, people can quickly spiral into trying to control things outside of their grasp, like the actions, reactions, or emotions of others. 

Being a caregiver, you feel personally responsible for the health and happiness of your loved one. Your help and support are invaluable. But when taking control goes too far, it can make you, your loved one, and the others around you utterly miserable. 

People want to help more than you think

Do any of the above reasons sound familiar? When we decide to face hurdles alone, we can convince ourselves it’s “easier” this way. But most of us fear rejection, humiliation, or disappointment under the surface.

However, most of the time, people do want to help. Studies have shown that people like being asked for help – and the act of helping can bring people closer together.

Interestingly, some studies suggest that asking for help makes you more likable. People feel good when they help others. If you’re the one reaching out, they’ll associate that good feeling with you.

Asking for help finally brought me some relief

At the beginning of my caregiving journey, I was a long-distance caregiver for both of my parents. While this arrangement worked, I found myself worrying about them more and more when I wasn't there. 

I was forced to confront reality: either I could carry on struggling, or I needed to build a "care-team" - and fast. 

This realization was a big step, as I’m usually a perfectionist (and, being honest, a bit of a control freak). Thankfully, the universe came to my rescue and helped me build a dynamic group of friends and family to help out. Truthfully, I feel like they saved my life. 

Learning to delegate as the primary caregiver 

As someone who likes being in control, delegating caregiving tasks was alien territory. I worried about accidents, mistakes, burdening the group... But once I saw how much relief I felt and how much it helped me, I got better at it! 

I still got worried and probably never stopped. Yet, little by little, I began to see how miraculous it was to have help when I needed it. All I'd had to do was swallow my pride, open up, and ask. All the fears I'd had before - of being rejected, made to feel "less than," and losing control - were entirely unnecessary. 

If you need help (and all caregivers do), here are some things that made delegating easier and quietened my inner control freak. It's difficult at first, but I promise you don't have to completely let go of the reins! 

Still not sure if you need help? Follow these 4 tips

1. Get Real 

Feel exhausted? Feel like more and more things are slipping out of your grasp? 

It's time to make a hot drink and have an honest talk with yourself about what's going on. 

What parts of caregiving are causing too much stress? What kind of help do you need to get out from under all that weight?

What parts are you really good at? Or enjoy? 

Could you benefit from someone with different skills lending you a hand? 

Then ask yourself the most complicated question: Why are you so hesitant to delegate? 

Are you ashamed or feel like a failure if you can't do it alone? Are you trying to be perfect

Friendly newsflash: No one is perfect, and no one can do the job of caregiving alone. If you get help doesn't make you a failure or a bad caregiver.

Asking for help makes you brave and pragmatic about your well-being and the health of those you love. Delegating even the smallest tasks frees you to do the most urgent, vital things for your loved one. It also allows you to be more proactive about your self-care. 

2. Start Small

You don't have to hand everything over at once. Let the perfectionist acclimatize to delegating tasks here and there. 

Start small if you'll need to adjust to handing over control. Let everyone get up to speed with how you do things by slowly introducing them to your daily caregiving routine or schedule

Friends or family members who want to help may want to tag along to appointments or shadow you during the day. This may be anxiety-inducing, but stick with it! Sometimes, simply having an extra pair of hands makes a big difference. 

3. Experiment and be patient

Asking for help doesn't mean you're locked into a new agreement. Suppose you feel overwhelmed by a caregiving task you usually enjoy. In that case, you don't need to hand over that duty forever - just until you get back on your feet. 

Don't worry if some handed-over duties don't go as well as hoped. Be patient, practice empathy the way you’d want when trying something new, and regroup as soon as you can.

Delegating is a process, and adjustments will need to be made all of the time. For example, someone may be terrible at cooking, but they may be great at soothing your loved one. 

Plus, anyone taking on new duties may need a few days to adjust. Take a few days to let everything settle down. If the person helping you still seems to be struggling, don't assume they're "not up to the job." Figure things out together, and maybe re-juggle some tasks. You'll get there. 

4. Avoid micromanaging 

Finally, once you've delegated something to someone, don't micromanage (as tempting as it can be). 

No one likes feeling they're constantly being watched for minor mistakes - especially when they genuinely want to help. Having someone hovering over your shoulder can make mistakes more likely too. 

So, feel free to keep an eye on things (from a distance), but try to leave your helpers alone to figure things out. When you check in with them, try to stay calm and positive about their progress. Rome wasn't built in a day! 

Oh, and a gentle reminder - don't confuse your way with being the right way. Your method could be successful, but there are millions of ways to approach a task and get the same results. 

Remember, you're delegating because you want to give your full attention to other tasks. Obsessively micromanaging is adding more to your plate, not less. 

The takeaway

Trusting other people to look after the health and well-being of your loved ones takes courage. However, getting help will empower and enrich your caregiving journey. 

Learn to delegate and be patient with yourself and others as you do it. Everyone involved will benefit and have a richer, more rewarding experience. In the meantime, you'll finally get the relief you need and deserve.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 


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