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Getting (and Giving) Help

About Getting and Giving Help

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People Make a Difference

When you’re dealing with a stressful situation or going through a rough time, the people in your life can help you cope. When someone who cares knows what you’re going through, it helps you feel understood — and not so alone.

Knowing someone loves you means a lot on a typical day. And it really counts when you’re under stress. Problems seem smaller and more manageable when we talk about them with the right person. We may actually cope better and see solutions more easily when we share our problems.

Were Hardwired to Help

Many Ways to Help

There are lots of different ways to get and give help. Sometimes we just want to hear an encouraging word. Other times we need advice or a fresh perspective on things. Help can be very specific and immediate, like assistance with a homework project. Or it can go on for a while, like tutoring to bring up a failing grade or counseling to get through a difficult personal situation.

It’s likely you remember the times someone has helped you. A parent may have taught you to drive or supported you when you quit a bad habit. Perhaps a friend helped you get through sadness or deal with disappointment. A favorite teacher might have guided you through the college application process. And you can probably remember times when you’ve helped others.

Friends, parents, teachers, and other adults can be great resources when we need help. There are also times when we need the extra help that a professional can provide best. Therapists, counselors, and doctors can offer specialized help for a health concern, mental health issue, or personal problem.

Turning to the right people for help pays off. You just have to ask.

Helping a Friend? Help Yourself Too

We often worry about friends who are having troubles. It’s natural to want to help a friend in crisisit can be just as rewarding to help another person as it is to have someone help you. Being there for a friend who needs your advice, support, and ideas is a positive part of friendship.

But what if you find yourself worrying so much about a friend that it’s taking an unfair toll on you? Maybe a friend seems stuck in a rut, constantly wanting to talk about the same problem but never really doing anything about it. Or perhaps your friend wants to focus on his or her problems and never has time for you. It’s also possible that a friend’s problems seem too large and unsolvable.

If you’re feeling pulled down by a friend’s troubles, it’s time to step back and regroup. Decide what you can do and what you can’t. These three little reminders can help keep things in perspective:

  1. There are limits to what we can do to help. We can’t make other people do things they’re not ready for.
  2. We need to take care of ourselves first. If a friend’s problems are overwhelming you, step back. Don’t let yourself be dragged down. We can’t help friends when we’re not feeling our best or are feeling resentful.
  3. We can’t always fix the problem. Some things are beyond our control. Sometimes the best you can do is listen and offer your support and understanding.

Sometimes a friend rejects or ignores your advice or help. You might feel frustrated if someone continues with self-destructive or unhealthy behavior when you have tried hard to steer your friend toward a healthier path. It’s not up to you to fix the problem, though. You can still let a friend know that you care, want the best for him or her, and believe in him or her.

It can help to remember that making changes or letting go of old patterns is hard for some people, so it takes time. This is one reason why a friend might not immediately follow advice. If you don’t feel dragged down or taken advantage of, be patient. Just offer support until things change.

Making Help a Habit

Here’s something people don’t often think about: Helping helps even when there’s not a problem.

Getting in the habit of giving and receiving help builds positive relationships. It makes us feel more connected and cared about. It prevents stress from building because we know someone else is thinking about us and looking out for us. And if there is a problem, we’re sharing it before it gets too big. It just feels great to help.

Try these small gestures at home and see how they make you feel:

  • Help your little brother or sister with a homework problem.
  • Help your dad prepare dinner.
  • Help your mom carry groceries.
  • Offer to do a chore that’s not usually yours “just because.”

There’s more to it than just feeling good: Kindness is contagious. It can create more kindness. So you might start to notice your family (or friends) reaching out to help more.

Just don’t fall into the trap of expectation. If we help out only because we expect the other person to do something in return, we will probably end up feeling disappointed and angry instead of happy and fulfilled. So decide to help simply because of the positive feelings it creates. Then, when someone else does something nice for you (and it will happen!), it’s a wonderful surprise.

Giving and receiving is one of the most basic friendship skills. With a good network of supportive people, we are less stressed. We feel loved and understood, so we’re better able to solve problems, bounce back from disappointments, and try again.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2014