What Can Family Members Or Friends Do To Help Someone Manage Symptoms Of An Anxiety Disorder?

Question: What can family members or friends do to help someone manage symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

Answer: So the tricky thing about being helpful to someone with an anxiety disorder is that the most common sense things that you can think of to do are the things that actually might make the anxiety disorder to sort of stick around.

So a person with an anxiety disorder might say, for example, "I'm getting anxious about driving, can you drive me somewhere?" And if you're wanting to be helpful to your family member you might feel like: Oh, well that's a good thing to do, it will alleviate their anxiety, and they can get things done.

The problem is is that what you're noticing and your family member's noticing is the anxiety over time is not getting better. In fact in lots of cases, it's getting worse. And most anxiety disorders have kind of a chronic course, particularly when they aren't seeking out treatment.

So what ends up happening is that when you try to be helpful and you're realizing: Oh, I might be doing things that are making them worse; then you start saying, "Well, I'm not going to be helpful to you and all." And you might start getting angry and resentful or nagging them -- just get better, just get over this, stop worrying about this. That isn't terribly helpful either.

What I recommend to people is one of two options. One is that you kind of gently distract them away from things that make them anxious. So involve them in other activities that aren't anxiety-provoking, or get them to talk about things that aren't anxiety-provoking. That isn't really a great long-term strategy.

A good long-term strategy is really to get them into treatment. A good way to help them kind of approach treatment is to get yourself maybe educated about anxiety and the nature of anxiety and the various treatments for it, to begin sharing that information with your family member. What that will do is help normalize their experience, it demystifies the process, and it might encourage them then to seek out treatment.

And then once they're in treatment, anything you can do to support their involvement in treatment is going to be the most helpful thing.

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