I struggle with asking for help in a lot of the typical ways. I feel like the kids and the house are my responsibility and if I ask for help, it means I’m a failure. So I do it rarely and when I do, it’s loaded with insecurities and shame.
BUT! In the non-typical ways? I AM A MOTHER EFFIN’ PROFESSIONAL.
One of the easy ways I have learned to deal with my anxiety…especially of the “social” variety…is to ask for guidance/help/advice from strangers. And I’m really good at it. Like…I always am confident I can get information I need to ease my anxiety if there is a suitable person to consult in the situation.
IT’S LIKE MY SUPERPOWER!
First…let’s talk about how social anxiety is more than just, “I don’t enjoy parties.” It is anxiety that bubbles up basically any time you’re outside your home or interacting with people outside your immediate family or close social circle. This is not just at social gatherings, but it’s shopping at a new grocery store, or traveling to a new city, or visiting a new doctor’s office. It’s anxiety shows up when you are around people outside of your comfortable social situations and familiar locations.
And I experience it CONSTANTLY, and so I’ve learned over the years that the easiest way to combat it is to get as much information as possible. I do the things you would expect: I look up photos of the interior of new restaurants, I Google Earth parking lots, I simply search the internet for information so I don’t have to go in blind. “What to expect from…” is probably my most commonly used research Google phrase. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH…if you are an anxious person it’s probably your Go To move as well.
But do you know what else I do? Something that seems SO CONTRARY to deal with social anxieties? I TALK TO STRANGERS.
I mean, not usually random strangers…but knowledgeable strangers.
I never thought this was weird until I watched my same social anxieties develop in my kids and realized that they think it is INSANE when I do this. Like…to them…it goes against every anxious instinct they have.
Here are some examples:
Nikki needed to get sources from a library for a research project. It was Veteran’s Day and so the public library was closed, but the University Library was not. We were both a little nervous because we had never been in this library. but I’ve been in college libraries before so I wasn’t as nervous as she was. We walked in and BAM! there were no books anywhere. It was coffee shops and computer labs and I was so confused. So we turned around and walked outside where I pulled out my phone and double checked we were in the right place.
Then I said, “I’m going to just go in and ask for help,” to which she DEMANDED that I NOT. She found that so embarrassing! So our compromise was I called (from outside the building) and I simply talked to the wonderful employee (inside the building) about our situation. Here’s where I do have a special technique: I am always 100% honest about my helplessness. I think it’s the open vulnerability and ceding of power that tends to lead to the most wonderful and helpful interactions.
I basically said, “Hi Michael. I’ve got a Junior High student here that just needs a few sources of books on light wavelengths for a research project. I know she can’t check them out since she’s not a student, but how could we find some just for her to look at while we stay in the building?” And he was SO HELPFUL. And he told us where to find him at the library for further help. WHICH WE DID. And Nyoka was patient, but mortified the entire time.
But me? I was perfectly fine. Having someone who knows what they’re doing guide me through uncharted territory is my favorite way to cope with my anxieties…EVEN IF THAT SOMEONE IS A STRANGER.
Because somewhere along the way I learned that in most situations, there is someone who is paid to know more than you do and if you are kind and if you use your vulnerability to remind them that they are needed and useful then you will end up with the best interactions ever. Everyone loves to feel needed. Then things become less scary!
Another recent example. My daughter rides the bus home every day from school. I’ve never had to do the car pickup line. But this week I needed to for the first time and I was VERY NERVOUS because that is where screw-ups can be catastrophic. I’ve seen entire lines of angry parents form behind someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
So! When I had to check Nikki out a few days before I simply said to the girl in the office, “Hey. I have a really dumb question. I have to come through the carline this week, can you tell me how it works?” And she explained it to me perfectly and even told me, “That’s not a dumb question! Every school is different, it’s good to ask!” And then, while I was still nervous about car line, I was not as worried about doing it wrong.
Now…I have had bad interactions with people before. There are still people who are having bad days or who are just mean or who are in positions to “help” but have no idea how to do it “nicely” and they’re buzzkills. I had a teacher at one of kid’s schools make me cry recently when I tried to figure out to handle a weird pickup situation. I am no exaggerating…I walked away…tears running down my cheeks…in front of the entire line of parents. It was terrible. I was mortified.
But 95% of the time the people in positions to help, are helpful. And they like knowing that they have skills/knowledge/experience that other people don’t have and so when I come to them for help, I’m always honest about my lack of all of those things. I say things like, “I have no idea what I’m doing,” or “I’ve never done this before.”
Sometimes I even call ahead to do this kind of information gathering, and I hate talking on the phone. BUT! I hate being unprepared worse.
But the more I watch my kids face their anxieties the more I realized that this technique does not come naturally to them, and I hate that because it makes my life so much easier. Maybe I didn’t do it much when I was younger? I’m not really sure because my anxieties kinda grew more the older I got, I didn’t have the same ones my kids have at their ages.
Either way…I highly encourage it if you can. If you struggle with new situations, find someone who gets paid to understand it and ask for their help. Be honest with them that you are coming to them because they are the experts and you are not and you are therefore grateful for any help they can give you.
Not only will you have an easier time navigating unknown territory, but a lot of the time you’ll have a very pleasurable experience to hold in your pocket to remember for future challenges. The more of those lovely helpful experiences you build up, the better.
Funny note of disclosure: Over the last 3 years I have noticed I get really good service when my big arm tattoo is visible. People love my blue phoenix and something about it always gives a connection because I have had hundreds of people compliment me on it. I have much more confidence approaching strangers for help when my tattoo is visible. Weird…but true.