You are using an outdated browser.
For a better experience, please upgrade your browser here.

Expert Advice

Ask for the help you need

You’ll probably hear the phrase “Let me know if you need anything” from at least one person this holiday season. It can be a difficult offer to accept. Maybe you’re overwhelmed and don’t know how to answer. Maybe you’re worried about being a burden. Maybe you think you “should” be able to handle things yourself—“should” being a word we say too often to ourselves when we’re struggling. Whatever the reason, it can be hard to take a deep breath and say, “Actually, I’d love your help with something.”

Taking some time to think about this in advance can make that conversation easier. We’ve made a list to help you identify the little things people can do to help you and your family. You can go through it on your own or brainstorm with a friend, if that’s easier. In fact, the next time someone asks how they can help, this could be a good place to start: “Can you help me think through good answers to that question?” Then pull up these prompts and start thinking.

Brainstorming prompts

What would help you around the house?

  • Preparing meals: If you need a break from cooking or food prep, ask people to bring you one simple meal that can be frozen.
  • Picking up supplies: Are you out of something essential—pet food, toilet paper? Ask your friend to make a quick run to the store to keep the house stocked with essentials.
  • Doing chores: Is the laundry piling up? Is the sink full of dirty dishes? When we’re struggling, tasks like these can feel overwhelming. Consider asking a friend to take care of one of them for you.

What tasks on your to-do list are weighing on you?

  • Organizing paperwork: Are bills piling up? Ask for help getting organized.
  • Making phone calls: If there’s a phone call that you’re dreading, consider asking someone to handle it for you—or just sit with you while you make the call.
  • Giving rides: If you have out-of-town guests, ask your friends to help with rides to or from the airport. They can also help if your kid needs a ride to school or soccer practice. Even a short break from sitting in traffic could be restorative for you and an easy task for someone else.

What appointments need to be made?

  • Doctors: If you’re struggling to stay on top of your or your family’s medical appointments, a friend can help you make a calendar—or even make appointments on your behalf.
  • Pet care: Does your pet need to go to the vet or groomer? Ask a friend to handle it this time.
  • Self-care: Let a friend book a haircut or massage for you—something you may not prioritize for yourself, but that could make you feel restored and just plain happier.

What would give you more emotional support?

  • Company: See if a friend can come with you to an event where you’d like to have a pal—for example, a holiday party or a school event.
  • Positive messages: Ask friends to send a supportive text message or two, especially during the days that you know will be particularly hard.

What would help you reclaim small moments of joy?

  • Making crafts: Have a friend join you in a small project you can work on together.
  • Exploring: Invite a friend over for a movie night or out to try a new restaurant with you.
  • Volunteering: Serving others is a great way of boosting our own spirits, and it’s just about always better with friends.

If you have children, how can loved ones pitch in?

  • Entertaining the kids: If a friend or family member is planning a kid-friendly excursion, ask them if they’d consider taking your kids along, too.
  • Making time for yourself: There’s no shame in needing some time alone to recharge. Ask your friend to babysit so you can have an evening out.

Once you’ve composed your list, it’s up to you how to use it. Share it with friends, post it on your fridge, keep it in your wallet for the next time someone offers to help—whatever feels right. And if you still can’t quite come up with an answer to the question “How can I help?” consider just sharing this list of ideas for your friend to choose from.

Whatever your approach, it takes courage to accept help from others. Just remember that people really do want to offer support. If someone says, “Let me know if I can do anything for you,” believe them. Accepting their offer can even bring you closer together. There may be occasional disappointments, but nothing you can’t handle. And you may be surprised and delighted by how many people come through for you.