One day, you’re full of energy, doing chores around the house, running errands, and spending time with loved ones. The next, you’re laying down with your feet up, heating pad across your abdomen, asking your friend or family member to bring you an easily digestible, diary and gluten-free meal and if they would switch the laundry for you.
Living with a chronic illness comes with a lot of ups and downs. Some days you may have the energy to do it all, other days you may need to rely on loved ones to lend you a hand. Asking for help from others is hard. You may find yourself saying things like “could I trouble you for…”, do you mind…”, “I hate to bother you, but…”. Needing help with simple tasks, like making breakfast or taking a shower, can be demoralizing and humiliating.
When you have a condition that limits your ability to do daily activities, you will need help. And that does not make you a burden.
You Are Not a Burden
There are many ways a person with a chronic illness will need help. This can range from a relaxing night in with good company, going to doctor’s appointments, and understanding when fatigue is so severe they need to cancel plans. Help can also mean supporting someone with a chronic illness in more intimate ways, like showering and dressing, using the bathroom, and brushing teeth.
Most people often struggle to ask for help because they are hardwired to want to do things independently, relinquishing control to someone else can feel uneasy. People often fear being perceived as needy and no one wants to feel ashamed of their situation or appear incompetent. It’s easy to believe others have their own worries to take care of and that your needs aren’t significant. Still, others may fear rejection if they do ask for help.
Get Better at Receiving Help
While you may feel uncomfortable about asking for help from others because of your chronic illness, remember you didn’t ask for your condition. When you repeatedly apologize for having basic human needs met, you reinforce to yourself and to others that you aren’t worthy. Over-offering thanks and apologies can also reinforce feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness.
Here are a few ways you can stop feeling like a burden and accept help from others:
- Accept that sometimes it will be annoying to help you
Whether you have a chronic illness or not, sometimes others just aren’t enthusiastic to lend a hand. It’s completely normal for people to not want to do things, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. Assistance means coexistence. It’s important to know that the people who love and care for you may not always be eager to help, but because they love you, they will anyway.
- Offer to help those who help you
People can hold a grudge in a relationship if they are feeling like they’re constantly “doing all the work.” This is true for friendships, familial relationships, and romantic ones. The people in your life may be reluctant to ask you for help because they don’t understand how difficult it is to live with a chronic condition and may not want to bother you. But just because you have a chronic illness, doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer. Give what you can, when you can.
- Communicate during neutral times
No one wants to be interrupted in the middle of a business call or when they are enthralled in a book. Instead of asking for things numerous times throughout the day, communicate during downtimes the daily things you need. By stating ahead of time your needs, you can save yourself and your loved one the frustration of repeating needs at inconvenient times.
- Relationships are a two-way street
All relationships are a give and take. One person may be more equipped to do certain things, like cleaning and running errands, and another may be better at other things like providing emotional support or advice. If you have a chronic illness, it’s understandable if you feel like you do a lot of “taking”. Remember to place value on the right things in relationships, which is the joy you bring to one another – not who takes out the trash more often. It may not be fair to do a lot of housework, but it’s also not fair to be living with a chronic illness you had no control over. We all need each other and that doesn’t make you less-than.
Despite concerns about what you ask for and who you ask from, the ironic part is that most people want to help. When others are willing to extend their hand, they are actually helping themselves too.
Asking for Help, Helps Others
Over and over again, studies show that giving back boosts health, happiness, and a sense of well-being. Researchers believe this happens because the level of endorphins, chemicals produced in the brain that help regulate stress and improve mood, increase when you lend someone else a hand. This theory is called “helper’s high”, which states that giving and performing acts of kindness produce a mild, natural version of a morphine high.
Here are a few ways asking for help from others not only helps you but benefits your loved ones, too:
- Increases lifespan
One study looked at how volunteering can improve health in ways that extend lifespan. The study found that the volunteers who donated their time on a regular basis showed an improved ability to manage stress, lower rates of disease, reduced rates of depression, and an increased sense of life satisfaction.
- Spreads altruism
Have you ever listened to a story where one person did something incredible to help another out? Often times when we hear stories about people helping people, we feel inspired to be helpful too. This is because altruism is contagious. Studies found that people are more likely to perform acts of generosity and show kindness when they observe others doing the same. So when you ask a friend to help you out, don’t be surprised when you feel the need to return the favor or pass it on in any way that you can.
- Heals chronic pain
Researchers found that altruistic behaviors help relieve physical pain. The study included two pilots and three experiments, where they used a functional MRI to measure the activity of pain sensors in the brain. They found that after individuals, including cancer patients, performed selfless acts the brain activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and bilateral insula in response to a painful shock was significantly reduced compared to those who hadn’t performed any altruistic activities. In simpler terms, helping others helps create a buffer for and reduces acute and chronic pain.
- Reduces hypertension
In addition to healing chronic pain, helping others can also protect from high blood pressure. Studies show that individuals who volunteered or lent a helping hand for at least 200 hours per year, or approximately 33 minutes a day, decreased their risk of hypertension by 40 percent. Hypertension is a heart condition that affects nearly 116 million Americans. Having hypertension puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are the leading causes of death in the United States.
- Gives a sense of purpose and life satisfaction
Depression affects about 7.1% of the U.S adult population or 17.3 million people, a number that has been steadily growing over the last few years. Two main characteristics of depression are feeling worthless and having a diminished interest or pleasure in almost all daily activities.
A recent study looked at two ways to increase feelings of self-worth in adults with depression. One group focused on self-image goals. These are goals related to obtaining status or approval and avoiding vulnerability in social situations. The other group focused on compassion goals, which are about striving to help others and avoid selfish behavior. The study showed that the group who focused on self-image goals saw a worsening of symptoms during the 6-week study. In contrast, the group that focused on compassionate goals experienced a reduction in depression symptoms.
By turning your attention toward helping others, everyone wins. Selfless actions lead to feeling better about yourself, others feeling better about themselves, and as a result, improves the relationship between the pair.
You Are Not Alone
When you try to prove your independence and refrain from asking loved ones for their assistance, it can make your condition worse and cause even greater riffs in your relationships. Dependence is not a bad thing. And you are not a burden for asking, no matter how much assistance you need.
If you are struggling with your condition and need some extra support, the PatientsLikeMe community is here for you. There are thousands of patients who are struggling with the same feelings and understand what you are going through. Join the conversation today to connect with others who can give you the help you need.