How to Ask for Help and Get What You Need

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair

This article was originally published at

COVID-19 has sparked worldwide city shutdowns in an effort to stop the pandemic from spreading, and it looks like it’s not ending anytime soon.

Many people are working from home, complying with social distancing recommendations or shelter-in-place laws. With many businesses forced to close, record numbers of people have filed for unemployment, something experts say could trigger a significant mental health fallout

“We are hardwired to be connected beings,” said Samantha Green, a licensed clinical social worker in Texas.

“That’s why we join faith communities, that’s why we partner off, that’s why people join clubs, it’s because we like being around like-minded people.”

Now, more than ever, people are looking for assistance. From connecting with friends over a Zoom call or asking someone to help with groceries for the week, it makes sense people are asking more of their friends and family members to get through this difficult time.

But for some, asking for help when they don’t know how can feel like a monumental task. 

“I think it’s one of those things that some of us may have been told to do but not all of us have models for,” Green said. “A lot of people go, ‘Okay, I know it’s important but I don’t know how to do it.’” 

Whether you need someone to drop off groceries on your porch, or you’re desperate to socially connect with a friend, here’s how to request the aid you need from your friends and loved ones. 

It’s OK to ask

In times of crisis, leaning on a community, or a group of close-knit friends and family, is often the key to getting through. But you may be afraid to reach out because of a fear of vulnerability, especially if you’ve been rejected in the past. 

Nicole Azrt, a licensed marriage and family therapist who serves on the advisory board for Family Enthusiast, said being rejected or ridiculed for vulnerability triggers a deep core belief about unlovability.

“Unlovability is one of our deepest, darkest human fears,” Azrt said.

“If we’ve had a history of being rejected or shamed when asking for help, our mind remembers that feeling. So we protect ourselves. It’s a part of survival; we don’t want to get hurt.” 

If you’re struggling with asking for help, it’s important to know that you’re not any less of a human being for needing assistance. It’s OK to ask for help, especially in a crisis. 

“Many people who struggle with vulnerability falsely assume they need to handle everything on their own,” Arzt said. “Thus, being able to move past that — and acknowledge that there is a struggle — is a sign of growth.”

With millions affected by COVID-19, chances are high you’re not the only one needing help right now. There’s no shame in asking for what you need to take care of yourself during a stressful time. 

Identify what you need

If you lost work because of the coronavirus shutdown, you may need assistance with groceries, or an extra bit of cash to cover a bill. If you were transitioned from an office to work from home, or under shelter-in-place laws, being forced to stay at home may make you depressed or anxious.

Figuring out what you need is the first step to understanding how to ask for it. 

Green said most requests can fit into two categories: emotional and tangible. Tangible asks are usually simpler, like asking for help with groceries. Emotional requests can be frustrating — they’re inherently more ambiguous. 

“The most basic level is, ‘I just want to feel different than the way I’m feeling.’” Green said. “‘I don’t like the way I feel, it’s emotionally painful, and it sucks.’”   

It can be difficult to understand the needs of an emotional request versus the very fixable tangible request. Friends and loved ones may want to offer resources or suggestions about what to do, but Green said those requesting an emotional ask may not be looking for advice. 

“Sometimes people say, ‘You know what? I just need to come and dump.’”

Green recommended communicating to loved ones what kind of support you need. Is there something specific someone can help you with? Are you looking for advice, or do you just need to vent for a bit?

Know who to ask

Half the battle of asking for help is knowing the best person to ask. Arzt said this is more intuitive than anything.

“This person should feel compassionate and warm. They should feel like they know how to be around difficult material.”

Depending on your request, Arzt recommended looking for someone older. They don’t have to be your best friend.

“While it’s not always the case, some people with life experiences develop a stronger empathy and self-awareness for their challenges. They can pass this wisdom onto you.”

Even with all the planning in the world, it’s important to come to terms with the fact that you may still be rejected. 

“This means letting go of some of that control,” Arzt said. “It also means being honest with yourself in asking, what’s the absolute worst-case scenario if someone rejects me?”

Once you realize it’s not as catastrophic as you think, you’ll likely feel better about the process. 

Asking for help can be difficult, even in the best of circumstances. With COVID-19 shutting down cities all over the world, leaving people without work and socializing for the foreseeable future, people are stressed and anxious.

But now, more than ever, it’s crucially important to work together, and help each other, if we’re going to get through the virus.