How to shout up and ask for help
The biggest reason I went into a mental breakdown was because I didn’t ask for help. That was five years ago, a lot has changed towards the conversations on mental health since then. However, when asking my coaching clients why they haven’t sought help sooner, their reply is that they don’t feel they can or should seek help. Many of them use the phrase ‘there are people worse off than me’. This certainly may be the case, but it should not make how one is feeling any less valid, and not seek the relevant support available.
In our current world of Covid-19, everyone is feeling overwhelmed. This might manifest in completely new experiences; managing heightening emotions of anxiety, and uncertainty. If you continue to ignore these emotions, it may lead to an explosion of emotional snapping – a pressure cooker effect. There will be an explosion of hissing steam, if we choose to ignore its warning whistling signs. Therefore, the best way to acknowledge these emotions is by shouting out and learning to ask for help.
Humans are social animals, this is evident in how hard we find social distancing, and how this is already impacting on everyone psychologically. However, even BC (Before Corona!) How often did you have a meaningful conversation with someone, letting them know that you are overwhelmed and need help?
In my professional experience there are four reasons people give when I ask what has stopped someone from shouting up and asking for help.
Being a burden: The most common reason is we don’t like to feel we are a burden to others – we are afraid of adding additional worry or stress to those who we love and care about. We might feel those individuals already have enough to worry about. In the current pandemic we are all dealing with additional mental and physical health struggles, so naturally this adds to the lack of wanting to share information, believing we are better off keeping it to ourselves.
The masks we wear: This shows up as our lack of authenticity. To the outside world we are portrayed as having everything together and for us there is a belief we must keep that mask in place to our friend/family member/work colleague.
Fear of laughter or judgement: Fear of the unknown is what keeps us trapped and keeps the lid on our pressure cooker. We fear those outcomes because it manifests as rejection which plays into our vulnerability. Part of our brain is trying to keep up safe from the fear and rejection, when actually it can be doing more harm than good by not allowing us to speak up.
The wrong person: Ever confided to someone and it has not gone well? This can be professionals, as well as those in our social circle. I hear stories of where clients have gone to see a therapist or coach and the initial meeting has been a disaster, it closes the door on the individual feeling capable of asking for help. Maybe you spoke to a friend and they made it all about their problem instead of yours, or they used a glib comment such as “you’ll be fine, you know you always are” which is about as much use as a chocolate teapot – instead of acknowledging and empathising with you. Maybe they went on to tell someone else how you were feeling, and it became gossip and you felt hurt or betrayed.
Once you have acknowledged any of the above scenarios – which are all totally valid but none are a reason for you not to shout for help; I have put together a handy set of prompts all starting with words which we use to begin to ask open questions:
Who can you speak to about this? Here is a list although not exhaustive:
- Family and friends
- Work colleagues
- Your manager
- Work professionals such as Mental Health First Aiders or your Employee Assistance Provision if you have one
- Professionals such as your GP, workplace counsellor, self-referred talking therapies, qualified coach
- Community Support Group
- Charities and Helplines
When is best for you to approach having a conversation?
Try and avoid a time when you know that person is likely to be busy, so with a friend who has children the evening may be better, or asking a colleague on your instant messaging to book a time for a virtual coffee rather than springing it on them.
Where can you have the conversation?
One perhaps to think about AC (After Corona!), otherwise it might be better to have a video call rather than a telephone call so you can see each other. This will help with the non-verbal body language and give the person you are reaching out to an opportunity to visibly see how this is affecting you.
Why do you feel this way?
Be honest with yourself by giving headspace for self-awareness ahead of reaching out to someone. Writing down your feelings is a good way to be able to communicate to someone else what is happening for you. I still do this when I have my GP appointment check-ups for my panic disorder medication and it helps me to remember everything. A good activity is to spend two minutes writing down all the things in your head that are bothering you. Then start to focus on what is in your control and out of your control.
What support would you like?
Do you have any idea of what support you might need when asking for help? You might not have a clue, but it is good to consider. Are your coping strategies not working for you? Do you need some guidance on where to seek professional help?
How do you think the person could help?
As a friend as well as a professional, when someone has shared something personal or had a rant about how they are feeling I say to the person “how do you want me to help?”. In some cases we want someone to listen to us and we find it helps us to feel better, it releases the pressure cooker lid; or in fact we problem-solved ourselves simply by talking honestly and openly with another person. You might want the person to help in other ways, such as going along to an appointment or recommending support – if you can give guidance that will help them to give you the right support.
Tell someone else if you do not feel listened to. Always reach out and keep reaching out until that support is given. I promise you there are people who are willing to listen and be there for you. If someone has not acknowledged you asking for help in a way that feels less than adequate, please do not give up.
If you need emergency support you can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day: 116 123
If you feel anxious or overwhelmed you can call No Panic 10am-10pm: 0844 967 4848
Ruth Cooper-Dickson is a Positive Psychology Practitioner and qualified Coach, who has studied Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology. She is the Founder and MD of the global mental wealth people consultancy, CHAMPS, partnering with progressive organisations helping them to ingrain a culture of positive mental wealth. Ruth is a passionate runner, an addicted life-long learner and a lover of all things cake!