• Dr. Bill Walker

4 Magic Words That Will Make Your Loved Ones Less Stressed

It’s hard to believe a short, 4-word question can be so powerful.

When members of your family get overwhelmed ask them this simple question.

Chances are, you will see an immediate change for the better.


We live in a stressful culture. Eight in 10 Americans say they frequently or sometimes encounter stress in their daily lives. Just 17% say they rarely feel stressed, while only 4% say they never do. [1]

This stress often finds its way into our home life. We bring our stress from work and school home with us, not to mention stress that originates from inside the family. To complicate matters, stress in one family member can make other family members stressed.

One question universally arises in a stressed family:

What can I do when a family member becomes stressed out?

Answer: Ask them 1 simple question...

“How can I help?”

This 4 word question can be a lifesaver for relieving stress, avoiding arguments and making your loved one feel supported. As a wife said of her husband:

“It almost feels like I'm cheating the system—I skip all the venting, bypass the part where I will definitely might say something that'll upset [my husband] even more, and get to where I can actually take action to help, all in a matter of seconds.” [2]

Did you catch the benefits according to this wife?

*You get to skip all your family member’s venting

*You avoid saying something that just makes the family member MORE upset

*Go straight to helping decrease the stress

What Makes This Simple Question So Effective?

New York-based relationship expert Jane Greer, Ph.D., is a chief advocate of using "How can I help?" to relieve stress in our loved ones. Greer says

“It has pretty much everything you need to show your partner you care which is crucial when they're upset”. [2]

Specifically, Greer says asking “How can I help” communicates 5 important messages of support:

i. It communicates you are tuned in to your partner

Stress feels even worse when no one in the family seems interested in what you are upset about. Asking this question clearly conveys to your spouse or child that you are listening.

ii. It communicates you are aware of what they're going through

Wanting to actually help necessitates your awareness of your family member's stress. You cannot be an effective helper if you are not aware of your loved one's stress.

iii. It communicates you are interested in their feelings and needs

Offering to help says to your loved one, “I don’t want you to feel stressed. What can I do to help make your stress go away?”

iv. It communicates empathy on your part to their situation

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what another person is experiencing. You do this by putting yourself in someone else's shoes and seeing their situation through their eyes.

Something very important happens when you do this: the stressed person feels a personal connection to you. This connection helps them to feel greater in some way (more empowered) and less alone in their situation.

v. It communicates you are looking to help on a supportive, concrete level

Talk can be cheap and limited in its power to change problems. True problem-solving often requires a helper to take concrete action on the stressed person's behalf. This is exactly what, "How can I help" offers to do.



1. Pay Attention To Your Family Members Moods.

Learn the nonverbal signs they give off when they are stressed or upset about something.

2. Ask questions like, "How are you feeling?"; "Is something bothering you?", "You seem stressed"; "You seem upset about something".

Warning: Your tone of voice is critical when probing your family member's state of mind. A critical or belittling tone of voice may set them off.

3. Listen to them.

You need to find out what they are stressed &/or upset about before you can help. Don't interrupt as they tell you about their situation. Ask for clarification of what you don't understand.

4. Initial venting is o.k. Let them get their stress off their chest. The problem with venting is when it become the only solution to trying to solve a problem.

5. For some people - venting is all the help they need. This is true of my wife. Often, when I say, "How can I help", she responds with, "I just need you to listen", or, "I just need to vent". That is all she needs from me at the moment.

6. Protect yourself from unhealthy venting. You are not a verbal punching bag for your family member. You have a right to walk away when you are being verbally abused.

7. Don't Force Your help on your loved one. Sometimes, just hearing you say you want to help is enough to make the other person feel better. All you can do is offer, and leave the response in their hands.


Christianly Speaking

We need help from others. The Bible creation account says that after God created the first human, Adam, the next thing He did was to create Eve to 'help' Adam. The Bible says,

"The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

In the Bible book, Ecclesiastes, it is written,

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (4:9-12, NIV)

God made us to help one another through this often difficult life. To not be helpers is to neglect one of our primary purposes in life. To not offer help is an act of selfishness.

Others may not want our help, but it is the act of offering that benefits ourselves, as much as it does others.


The Bottom Line

"How can I help?" This simple, 4-word question can make all the difference in making our loved ones feel supported, less alone, and less stressed.

The good news is this little question can be also be used on our friends and coworkers. In short, this offer to help works on pretty much anyone and everyone!

"How can I help?" Let me know.

For the Family

--dr. bill walker