Tips - Supporting a Friend or Family Member

Supporting a Friend or Family Member

A friend or family member with an anxiety disorder needs good support in addition to effective treatment. Criteria for effective helpers include: knowledge of anxiety, an understanding of the recovery process, compassion, sensitivity, patience, and strong boundaries. If you are that special person in their life, here are some suggestions.

Helpful Support
  1. DO educate yourself about anxiety disorders. A good support is informed.
  2. DO let them set the pace for recovery. You may want to take a trip to Hawaii this winter, but it may be more realistic to plan for next year. Follow their agenda.
  3. DO ask them what they need from you. When they are anxious, do they need a hug/space/talk or quiet. You can’t assume what they need; they are the expert.
  4. DO become familiar with the way they calm themselves, then you can work together when they are anxious.
  5. DO give praise for every achievement, no matter how small. Sitting in a restaurant for 15 minutes may be a big step for someone who has avoided eating in public.
  6. DO suggest recording each of their gains. On a discouraging day, they can review their notes and see their progress.
  7. DO acknowledge their fear. Reassure them that anxiety feels terrible but isn’t life-threatening.
  8. DO allow yourself, at times, to feel resentful, helpless, frustrated or afraid. You have taken on a difficult task.
  9. DO give yourself the care you need. Maintain your social supports. Take breaks. Tell them you are needing a time-out and reassure them that you are not abandoning them. By doing so, you are modeling self-care and healthy boundaries.
Unhelpful Support
  1. DON’T blame them or yourself for their problems.
  2. DON’T minimize their fears. Don’t say ‘get a grip’, ‘think positive’, ‘relax’.
  3. DON’T panic if they panic. Read the literature on controlling anxiety and practice how to manage yours.
  4. DON’T pressure them to take bigger steps than for what they are ready. Every little step builds self-confidence.
  5. DON’T encourage avoidance. If they panic and leave a situation, allow them time to calm themselves and then suggest gradually returning to the situation.
  6. DON’T be domineering and insist they take a particular step. Their ability to choose decreases anxiety and helps them feel in control.
  7. DON’T be overprotective. They don’t need a parent, but need to build self-confidence by facing their fears.
  8. DON’T rearrange your life to accommodate their recovery. That is not healthy for you or for them.
  9. DON’T take on the burden of recovery. You are not responsible for their wellness - only they are.
  10. DON’T quit. Persevere. There is effective treatment for anxiety, but time and patience are needed.
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