Asking for Help to Relieve Caregiver Stress

Alison van Schie

Asking for Help to Relieve Caregiver Stress

Alison van Schie


"If there’s something I can do to help, don’t be afraid to ask."

This is a courtesy friends and family often extend to you as a caregiver. You thank them, but then how often do you follow up? What is it that’s holding you back from accepting their offer? Perhaps it’s because you think it’s just a nicety or aren’t convinced they mean it. Maybe you just have a hard time asking for help. Either way, ignoring the various signs of needing help can put you at an increased risk of injury and stress.

Read more: Learning to accept help

I understand the tendency to avoid asking for help. When I recently tried to grab an item on the top shelf at the store, my fingers barely touched it. Rather than heed the sign that recommended shoppers contact store staff for assistance getting items from the top shelf, I instead stood on my tiptoes straining to reach the item with my right hand. In the process, I pulled something in my shoulder which caused me discomfort for several days. I got the item down on my own, but at what physical cost? Why didn’t I do as the sign suggested and contact a salesperson to assist me? They have ladders and stools (and insurance in the event that an employee falls or causes themselves injury). Reflecting on this experience, I came up with several reasons why I found it hard to ask for help including:

  • I didn’t want to wait;
  • I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone;
  • I didn’t want to look weak or incapable;
  • I didn’t want to feel inadequate or needy;
  • I wanted to be in control and do it myself.

Do these introspections sound familiar?

What I realized is I didn’t think beyond the immediate situation. It never occurred to me that my action would have painful consequences. My example can be applied to you, dear caregiver. When life situations change and you step into this role, either gradually or suddenly, you find yourself facing many new demands on your day. How do you fit all these new and possibly unfamiliar tasks into your already busy day? Responsibilities seem to double, and yet the hours in the day remain the same and your energy reserve hasn’t changed. It only seems natural to add these tasks to your to-do list as you want to be there for your loved one--fitting their activities for daily living into your life--but at what cost? You need, and deserve, help.

How to Ask for Help to Relieve Caregiver Stress

Remember that question from the beginning of this post? Accept their offer! If it turns out your friends and family weren’t genuine, you will quickly find out. Whether it’s picking up groceries or medications, mowing the lawn, shoveling the walk, or doing some cleaning or laundry people are generally sincere about their desire to help. These may seem like simple tasks, but by asking for help you will take an important first step to reducing your stress and saving yourself from injury or burnout which, in turn, has positive effects on your loved one.

It may seem foreign to ask for assistance, but once you start you will become more comfortable making requests and others will know that you are open to receiving their help. I challenge you to give it a try by asking someone to bring you a meal today and see what happens!

As a caregiver you likely don’t have time to reflect on your reasons for not asking for help, but you need to take the time to start asking for help. Self-reflection can come later. Your commitment to care for your loved one doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. It’s quite likely that your loved one may appreciate someone else’s cooking for a change or companionship for an hour or two and you will feel better knowing you’re reducing your risk of injury or burnout.

Even though asking for help may seem hard, there are definite and often immediate benefits for you. Enjoy that meal, and remember that help is out there. You just have to ask.

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