In my work as a coach at Ginger, the topic of self-care comes up a lot. The influence of the internet has many people — especially millennials — thinking intentionally about what activities help restore their energy and lift up their moods. Myself, I’m a big advocate for cooking my own meals, cuddling with my cat, and going to the rock climbing gym. Yet, when I’m feeling low or stressed, the one thing that never fails to help me feel better is reaching out to my best friend.
In a study by the British Psychological Society, researchers found that “friendships play a vital role in helping people get through substantial challenges in life.” In the workplace, research from Gallup shows that having a best friend at work is positively linked with strong employee engagement and higher productivity. Additionally, Elle editor-at-large, Melissa Harris-Perry, shares that the energy she has to teach, mentor, and advocate for her community comes from the support she receives from her friends and family. In her article, How #SquadCare Saved My Life, she writes, “Squad-care reminds us there is no shame in reaching for each other and insists the imperative rests not with the individual, but with the community. Our job is to have each other’s back.”
“Squad-care reminds us there is no shame in reaching for each other and insists the imperative rests not with the individual, but with the community. Our job is to have each other’s back.”
A common byproduct of not asking for help at work or not reaching out to one’s support system in times of need is feeling isolated or alone, feelings which are, ironically, more often than not shared by colleagues and friends. While self-care activities are important, they are usually things that you’re doing just for yourself and don’t necessarily help with overcoming the feelings of isolation that could be adding to your stress.
Work stress is one of the biggest areas that I coach Ginger members in, and it’s often related to people’s desires to do well and to be seen as capable in their positions. But when this stress builds to a level that is no longer sustainable and their productivity starts to suffer, I often get asked, “How do I ask for help without seeming incompetent or like I’m not good enough at my job?”
“How do I ask for help without seeming incompetent or like I’m not good enough at my job?”
A first step to answering that question is in recognizing that struggling on your own isn’t helping anything, and accepting that asking for support does not make you weak or incompetent; it’s, in fact, a strength to realize when you need help and to self-advocate by asking for what you need. By reaching out and including other people in your self-care, you’re better able to receive feedback and support in looking at your situation from another perspective and in considering ideas that you hadn’t thought of yet. Even simply hearing that you’re not alone in your struggles at work can help to relieve some stress. For these reasons, it’s important to have both restorative activities to do on your own and a supportive community to turn to in difficult times.
Asking for help, support, or advice can feel uncomfortable because it requires a certain level of vulnerability. Yet, most successful leaders didn’t get to where they are now without the help the people around them, proving that vulnerability and leaning on supports is a cornerstone of success and accomplishment. When asked about their success, many leaders will openly share about the influence that their mentors have had on them over the years and how they continue to turn to them today when they need advice or guidance.
For someone to be a mentor, such as a peer, they don’t need to have more experience than you or necessarily be an expert on a certain topic; they can simply be someone who you respect and share common values with. By reaching out for help from a peer, you could even discover that they are going through a similar experience as you, leading you both to compare notes and give each other support, making your connection a mutually beneficial one. An important thing to remember — there are a lot of people out there who want new friends and you might be just the right person for them.
When reaching out for support, it’s helpful to be clear up front and ask for what you are looking to get out of the conversation. This is especially important in new relationships to avoid miscommunications. This can mean saying something like:
“I want to tell you about my work day. There were some tough moments in there, and I could really benefit from some positive support. Could you do that for me?”
By doing this, you give the other person a heads-up so they can prepare to listen closely and you’re letting them know that what you need the most is their support. If you want to get their advice or some constructive feedback on what you could be doing differently, you can ask for that too — just be prepared to be open to what you hear. When you ask directly for what you need, you’re also modeling for others how to ask for help, which is helpful and supportive in itself.
If reading this is making you take a look at your relationships and you’re realizing that you don’t have the support network you need, it might be helpful to get into coaching or therapy to find ways of getting the support you could most benefit from. With coaching, you could discover ways to bring more supportive relationships into your life or improve the ones you already have, and in therapy, you could begin to unpack and get clear on what’s keeping you from having the kinds of relationships you want most in your life.
Have you recently been promoted? Did your last project at work go really well and you’re thrilled about it? Sharing good news is an important way to make sure that you’re not only turning to your community in times of stress, which can hurt those relationships in the long-run. Opening up about your low points and your high points is also a way to encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same with you. The next time you’re feeling down, your supports will remember the successes that you’ve shared with them and be able to remind you of how awesome you are.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the way we talk about ourselves has an impact on those around us — especially for those who are in a leadership position. If you have a team that you manage or are the natural leader in your friend group, being open about mistakes, challenges, and worries shows others that it’s safe for them to speak about these difficulties and normalizes having these often unspoken, yet common feelings. Additionally, sharing what you’re proud of and celebrating your successes encourages others on your team and in your friend group to take pride and confidence in sharing their own accomplishments.
At its essence, squad-care is about being intentional in your relationships by reaching out to get support when you need it, showing vulnerability, sharing your successes, and giving all of the support you receive back in turn. When you focus on squad-care as a form of self-care, you can feel less stressed, more productive, and best of all, more connected to yourself and your community.