Asking for help as a carer

I recently took part in a support group for partners of people living with stage 4 cancer through Shine Cancer Support. They were a group of funny, honest and insightful people who offered valuable support and advice, but a shared challenge was the ability to ask for help.

Caring for a child, partner or loved one with a long-term health condition can be overwhelming, draining and complicated. Of course you want to do your best for them but the everyday demands and lack of time and support for yourself can easily cause you to burnout.

Yet, asking for help can feel equally difficult. You might feel that you should be able to cope better, are being a burden or have just been conditioned to 'get on with it'. Opening up about how we are struggling can also feel very vulnerable and we might be afraid to tell others. The first step is to explore some of those feelings and ask yourself if you would feel the same about your friend, if they needed help.

The answer is most probably no, as we are often much more judgemental of ourselves than we are of others. The other thing that may be holding you back is simply the practicality of asking for help. You may be so busy, or have so many constraints, that asking for help just seems like another complicated thing for your 'to-do' list, and getting on with it yourself feels easier.

So how can you break through some of these barriers and ask for the help that you deserve?

Check in with yourself

Firstly, it's important to understand how are you feeling and what you actually need. Give yourself some regular time and space to check-in with yourself and consider these questions. What does help look like to you? It could be practical support, emotional support or crisis support. Do you need something for a particular timescale or are your needs ongoing?

Professional support

There are lots of support services and charities that may be able to offer you support or advice. For example, there are many local groups that can offer practical services such as picking up prescriptions or transport to medical appointments, or condition specific charities that can provide advice, support groups or counselling.

'Let me know if there is anything I can do'

You have probably heard this phrase from well meaning friends and family. They usually genuinely want to help but don't understand how frustrating this non-committal phrase can be. It can often cause more pressure and overwhelm for you to figure out what they could do and then feel like you have to go and ask them.

Be specific

People often struggle to know how to help and may not understand the things that would actually be useful to you, so don't be afraid to be specific. These might be practical things like making meals, walking the dog or cleaning the house, or emotional support like going for a coffee or taking the kids out to give you a break. Write a list and the next time some offers to help, provide them with options.

Set up a WhatsApp group

Reaching out to people individually can be tiring and time consuming, especially if you are dealing with a lot of change or uncertainty. Creating a group chat allows you to update people altogether and also puts the onus on them to decide who will undertake each task.

Show self-compassion

You are doing a great job! Life as a carer can feel relentless and anybody would find it challenging, so be gentle on yourself. Asking for help is not a weakness but the strength to recognise that you need support to be the best version of yourself for you and your loved ones.

Smile is a mental health app for people managing chronic physical health conditions. Download now from Google Play or ​Apple App store.