Feeling Overwhelmed? How to Ask for Help and Reclaim Your Life!

You’re scrambling. 

You’ve got deadlines up the wazoo. 

You’re struggling to juggle home and work.

And you’re also trying to maintain some semblance of a self-care regimen, although, to be honest, that’s failing fast too.

Let’s just call it what it is: you’re overwhelmed. 

You’ve got tons of obligations, and you’ve also got tons of reasons not to ask for help. 

You’re not alone though. Most people feel uncomfortable asking for help. Some people fear rejection while others don’t want to look incompetent or needy

But what these excuses have in common is that they make asking for help out to be some sort of weakness when it is in fact a strength.

You may think you don’t want help or even deserve help but you need help. We all do. 

We can do a whole lot of work on our own, but many of our personal and professional breakthroughs happen when we let others support us along the way.

On the flipside, research shows that not asking for help at work can lead to negative outcomes for employees, including feeling less satisfied with your work as a whole.

What’s more, we tend to underestimate how likely others are to help us even though we need to ask for help in order to get help, a catch-22.

If you’re feeling like you’re in over your head, then you need to get out of your own way and ask for some assistance. Burning yourself out for work and other obligations is not healthy or productive

Use the following 3 tips to learn how to ask for help and reclaim your life today.

Be Honest About Your Capacity

First and foremost, before you even start to utter the words, “Could you help me…” you need to take a good, hard look at yourself. 

Are you really being honest about your capacity?

Chances are that if you’re overwhelmed, you might suffer from overextending yourself in certain areas of your life. 

In order to figure out what your true capacity looks like (everyone’s is a bit different), then you need to slow yourself down for a hot second and engage in some self-reflection.

Taking time for yourself isn’t selfish; it’s critical especially when you’re feeling consumed by your obligations.

Some questions you can ask yourself to better understand your personal capacity include:

  • At what point in the day do you feel most energized, and at what point in the day do you feel most drained? (This question can help determine when you work at your peak, and when you may need some extra support.)
  • How much of your to-do list did you actually get done yesterday? What about last week? (This question helps you figure out what your real to-do list should look like—whether it’s 3 core items a week or 5 mini tasks in a day.)
  • If you look at your calendar, how is your time currently used and do you feel it is used effectively? (This question helps you reflect on how you’re spending your time and if it’s aligned with your needs and desires.)
  • If you look at your calendar again, how much of your “free time” or “me time” gets booked over in a given week? (This question can help you realize how often you may neglect critical self-recovery time.)

Before you even think about asking someone else for help, you need to be honest about your own capacity and what you can truly get done. 

If you know, for instance, that you can only reasonably accomplish 2 major tasks in a day and 4 minor ones, then you need to determine:

  1. Which tasks you can complete each day.
  2. Which tasks you can ask for support on from others—whether that be a colleague, manager, partner, or friend.
  3. Which tasks you need to say “no” to altogether because they aren’t serving a specific purpose or need.

Understanding your capacity in a holistic fashion not only helps you figure out how to balance your time better, but also how to ask for help from others so that you can get your life back on track.

Account for ALL the Things 

Jacqueline M. Baker posing on a couch to help a friend with their photography project

Unfortunately, even when we’re ready to get honest about our capacity so that we can get some solid help, we often forget about accounting for all the things.

Our capacity is not only made up of what we need to accomplish in our professional life and on the home front. Our capacity also includes all of the asks we receive on a regular basis in the form of requests and favors. 

The asks we get may come via email, text, phone call, DM, or from a co-worker walking over to our cubicle at lunch while we’re frantically trying to finish a project while also scarfing down another sad salad. Ouch.

Favors and requests can take major shark-sized bites out of our days, but it’s up to us to manage them.

You need to set-up boundaries at home and at work in order to guard against an onslaught of requests and favors. 

This could mean politely asking a coworker to come back to you at the end of the day when you’re done with a project. Or it might mean blocking out time on your calendar to ensure that when someone asks you for coffee you can confidently say, “No, I’m unavailable.” 

In addition to setting boundaries to reduce your ask burden, you also need to take stock of the asks you’re still receiving as some of them could easily be delegated to someone else in your circle. 

For example, if the ask is for a particular document, perhaps you can CC in your colleague who knows exactly what and where it might be instead of trying to dig it up yourself. Or if the ask is to plan a party for a work friend, then maybe you could loop in some other mutual friends to divide and conquer all the tasks.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s up to you to first determine your complete to-do list—asks and all, before knowing when and what to say “no” to and what’s left to delegate to others.

Determine Who’s Reliable and Who Isn’t

Jacqueline M. Baker Confused

Once you’ve figured out what your capacity looks like (including all the things), then you’re in a good, strong place from where you can effectively ask for help. 

But you can’t just ask any person for help—you gotta determine who’s reliable in your circle and who isn’t.

Because let’s be real: some people in your circle would and could literally do anything for you at any time while others might be wonderful in so many ways but just can’t handle quite as much (and that’s putting it nicely).

Getting help can be easy, but getting good help is not quite so simple.

To get the help you truly need, then you need to match the right person with the right task—that’s the basis of effective delegation.

If you haven’t asked many people for help just yet, then you’ll learn who’s right for what through a trial and error process. This isn’t ideal in a time crunk, but mistakes must be made and you’ve just gotta learn as you go.

Once you’ve got a sense for who in your circle is ideal for what kind of task, then you’ve got a nice Helper Roster in the making. 

Keep this list in your head, on your phone, or on the computer—anywhere that’s easy to access. And then use your Helper List as a reference tool whenever you feel yourself getting stuck, overwhelmed, or on the train to Burnoutville.

And remember: the people on your list are those you would help in a heartbeat so know that they’re around to help you out when you need it, too.

Asking for Help Doesn’t Have to Be a Pain

Jacqueline M. Baker posing on a couch to help a friend with their photography project
Photography by Tafari Stevenson-Howard

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometimes asking for help is the last thing you want to do, but one of the first things you need to do so that you can lighten your load.

Asking for help doesn’t have to be a burden though. You can lessen the pain by being honest about your capacity, being aware of the asks you regularly receive, and then pairing the right people with the right delegated task.

It’s all about setting yourself up with a successful overwhelm-busting system. Don’t let yourself suffer any more than you need to. Reclaim your life by asking for help ASAP. 

Until next time,

Jacqueline M. Baker

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