Reaching out for help is always hard, but the pandemic takes things to a new level.
Asking for help is critically important when you’re having a hard time with recovery, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Plus, the pandemic has just about everyone struggling in some way, making the task of asking for help even more daunting.
If you’re hesitant to reach out because you’re wondering how you can ask someone for support when they’re likely struggling as well, you’re not alone. Asking for help is harder right now, but there are ways to make it easier.
If you need help now
If you’re considering suicide or have thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357).
The 24/7 hotline will connect you with mental health resources in your area. Trained specialists can also help you find your state’s resources for treatment if you don’t have health insurance.
Fear, shame, and guilt often make it difficult to reach out to others. What if you’re rejected? What will they think of your needing to leaning on them again? Shouldn’t you be able to handle this on your own by now?
“Unfortunately, a lot of people who’ve experienced long-term recovery are struggling right now,” says Adam D. Scioli, DO, FASAM, FAPA, associate medical director and psychiatrist at Caron Treatment Centers.
“But giving yourself permission to ask for help is important,” Scioli continues.
“It’s not a moral failing. It’s not a weakness or something you can exert your will over and overcome. Addiction is a chronic, progressive, relapsing, remitting, potentially fatal disease process that requires help and support.”
Add a pandemic into the mix, and now there’s another layer of fear, shame, and guilt to overcome. What if your request for help is too overwhelming for them right now? What if they think you’re being selfish or ignoring the challenges they’re experiencing?
Plus, recovery is typically a “we” program, not an “I” program. Pre-pandemic, you could meet a friend for coffee, attend a meeting, or invite someone over.
But now, those options are limited or nonexistent, and it feels like that essential “we” component is missing. Guilt plus isolation isn’t a great combo when you’re in crisis.
“Social isolation can make people feel more alone with all of their worries, fears, and sadness,” says Christine Crawford, MD, associate medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“However, it is important for people to find creative ways to remain connected to others in order to protect their mental health.”
Having and maintaining a broad support network filled with trusted, reliable friends and family isn’t just important — it’s essential. But when you’re not feeling particularly great, picking up the phone might be the last thing you want to do.
Try thinking of it this way, though: Asking for help is much less awkward when you’re in regular communication. When you continue to pick up the phone for casual conversations, it’ll be a lot easier to ask for help when you’re really struggling, and it may even be a seamless part of your chat.
“Before anyone leaves our treatment center, I encourage them to keep talking to people,” says Victoria Metz, a certified recovery coach at Arms Acres and the founder of Run4Recovery.
“When you keep talking to people, the likelihood of you talking to them when you need help increases. Routine is key for people with a substance or alcohol use disorder.”
It can be really hard to imagine what help looks like when in-person options are so limited. But, with a little creativity, there are ways to receive meaningful help.
“Help definitely looks different right now,” says Erica Spiegelman, a certified alcohol and drug counselor and author.
Video calls are a great way to connect a bit more deeply than you could on the phone, but it’s not the only option, she adds.
“You can take a socially distanced walk with masks or even meet in someone’s backyard, as long as you sit far enough apart.”
Yes, there will be some level of risk with any in-person meeting, but balancing risks and benefits is key.
If you think that an in-person meeting with a close friend or family member would be a game-changer for your recovery, there are a few precautions you can take:
- Mask up. This is a no-brainer at this point, but make sure you and the other person wear a mask that fully covers your nose and mouth at all times.
- Take it outdoors. Go for a walk, meet in a park, sit on the porch — whatever you decide to do, keep the meeting outside.
- Mind your distance. Even outdoors and with masks, it’s important to keep at least 6 feet of distance between you.
- Keep it short and sweet. Try to keep your meeting as brief as possible. If you have a lot you want to get off your chest, consider breaking the ice in person and picking up where you left off over the phone.
Help can also look like:
- connecting with a support group online or through social media
- having a virtual appointment with a therapist or addiction counselor
- calling a hotline
- receiving a homemade meal from a friend
- calling an in-patient treatment center — most have remained open during the pandemic.
Scioli adds that you can also visit a crisis response center or local emergency department in a pinch. There, you’ll speak with someone in person and they can help you figure out next steps.
Since help looks different right now, how you ask for it is also different.
Instead of waiting for someone to decide what they can do and how often they can do it, try to determine what it is you need and be specific in your request.
For example, ask if you can call them once a week or meet in a local park for a walk every Saturday morning.
“When you ask for help, you need to be prepared to hear, ‘I’m sorry, I do care, and I’d love to be in a position to help, but I’m kind of tapped out,” Scioli cautions.
“Although it can be really difficult to hear that after you’ve finally mustered up the courage to ask, they’re giving you an honest answer, and that’s a good thing. It’s better that they don’t promise something that they can’t deliver.”
If you do receive a “no,” remember that it’s not about you, and don’t cross them off your friend list. Instead, keep in touch and ask someone else.
There’s no sugarcoating it: Asking for help is hard, especially right now. Here are a few ways to make it a little bit easier.
Stay in touch with multiple people
Make it a habit to keep in touch with at least 10 people,” Metz advises. “That way, if you really need to speak with someone, it’s likely that at least one person will answer and be available to talk.”
Don’t have 10 super close friends? Most people don’t, but family members, neighbors, an acquaintances you’d like to know better all count, too. You also don’t necessarily have to discuss your recovery with all of these people — simply maintaining some line of communication can be a big help.
And you never know, you may just find that they’re in a similar boat and need support, too.
Arrange support for exactly when you need it
Is there a specific time of day or week that’s hardest for you? Make sure you have support at those times.
“I encourage you to say, ‘I’ve noticed that I start to get in my head and engage in a lot of negative self-talk at 2:00 every afternoon,” Scioli recommends. “Would it be OK if I reached out to you tomorrow at that time to see if it would help me?’”
Take the time to help yourself
There’s nothing wrong with leaning on others for help, but your own company can be a surprising source of support.
If you aren’t very comfortable being alone, aim to create a daily solitude plan (there’s really never been a better time to do this). You can read a book, watch a movie, exercise, take a bubble bath, begin a gratitude practice — whatever it is, make it a special activity that you do alone.
“Having a healthy routine around solitude and cultivating a better relationship with yourself is self-love and self-compassion,” says Spiegelman. “And when you get to know yourself more, you’ll feel happier and be freer.”
Develop a routine (and stick to it)
“Establishing daytime structure and routine is incredibly important during these uncertain times when it feels like so very little is in our control,” says Crawford.
“Identifying areas of your life in which you do have control can reduce the anxiety that comes along with uncertainty. Set up a daily schedule which incorporates time for self-care, socializing, and work-related duties.”
Make a list
Inevitably, there will be times when no one’s free to chat (or you just really don’t feel like talking to someone you know).
Make a list of virtual meetings or hotlines you can rely on when these moments strike.
These groups are all offering virtual meetings:
The following hotlines can also offer support:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-NAMI (6264)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
- SAMHSA: 800-662-HELP (4357)
It’s a challenging time to be in recovery, but the pandemic doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.
Remember: Those who love and care about you don’t mind helping when they can. Chances are, they’re happy that you’re reaching out for help when you need it because they’d much rather you be happy and well than struggling on your own.
Gia Miller is a freelance journalist, writer, and storyteller who mainly covers health, mental health, and parenting. She hopes her work inspires meaningful conversations and helps others better understand various health and mental health issues. You can view a selection of her work here.