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Tips on How to Handle the Difficulties of Anxiety Within the Family
The information provided on this page is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health care professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.
People with anxiety or panic disorders face unique obstacles that may require a learning curve for caregivers to handle effectively. During difficult situations or emergencies, try to practice the following tips:
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- Don’t be quick to accommodate your loved one’s anxiety. You might be surprised to learn that making accommodations for your loved one to reduce stressors or triggers can actually increase them. These short-term “solutions” may create a new problem, as they can be unsustainable and unrealistic in the long-term. By avoiding a naturally-occurring situation, you’re sending a message that there is something to fear when, to the contrary, the fear is irrational. In addition, continuing to make special accommodations puts weight on you, adding unnecessary responsibilities.
- Instead, gradually help your loved one break free of avoidance behavior. It makes sense that many mental health professionals employ exposure therapy and tactics that help overcome avoidance as part of their care plan. Continuing to avoid things like making phone calls or social situations can eventually cause anxiety to snowball over time. If you want to help your loved one overcome avoidance behaviors, try breaking things down into small steps. Try asking, “What’s the first step you need to take?” Help your loved one identify the first step and walk him or her through it.
- Be present when a panic attack occurs. When your loved one is experiencing a panic attack, it may be a good idea for you to be physically present. Try using some of the breathing techniques outlined in the Strategies section of this guide. Encourage your loved one to focus his or her thoughts and slow down his or her breathing. Stay calm. Most panic attacks don’t last more than 20 to 30 minutes. Be positive and encouraging. If he or she has experienced a panic attack before, remind your loved one that this too shall pass and it’s something he or she has overcome in the past. When the attack is over, encourage your loved one to follow up with a medical professional.
- Disrupt harmful patterns with mental treatment. For some types of anxiety, the individual becomes desperate for constant reassurance. The person might repeatedly ask questions like “Should I go to the doctor again?” or, “Do you still love me?” Someone who is experiencing this level of intense, demanding reassurance should work with a mental health professional to address the concern. Couples or family therapy are excellent options that provide an appropriate space for setting boundaries. This pattern of behavior often causes anxiety to escalate. With some professional assistance, it’s possible to disrupt this harmful pattern and promote emotional wellbeing.
Learn About Resources to Help Care for a Person With Anxiety or Panic Disorder
The following resources provide more information on anxiety and panic disorders, including online tools to access community groups, therapy services and more.
Many people find self-help workbooks helpful in dealing with anxiety. Ask a mental health professional for a recommendation or search online. These are especially useful for individuals who may have trouble seeking professional help, as they are a non-intrusive way to take steps towards anxiety management.
National Resources for Anxiety and Mental Health
For more information on anxiety disorders, check out the following national agencies:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Mental Health (CDC).
To find a mental health professionals and support groups near you, check out these nationally recognized associations:
- American Psychiatric Association (APA)
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
- Anxiety Network
- Anxiety Central (online forum)
Financial Assistance or Low-Cost Mental Health Treatment
For financial assistance, research organizations in your community that offer therapy services on a sliding scale such as the YMCA. If your loved one has insurance, call the company provider and ask what is covered and if it’s possible to be reimbursed for a portion of the treatment. Research universities that may also offer counseling for free or at a reduced cost. Good RX, Partnership for Prescription Assistance, Care for Your Mind and NeedyMeds are good sites to check about lower-cost medications or prescription medication discounts.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you suspect that your loved one is at risk for suicide, act immediately. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They provide 24/7 support and crisis resources for free.
Find out About Self-Care Strategies for Caregivers of Anxiety or Panic Disorders
Anxiety and panic disorders have far-reaching effects, often impacting the lives of those closest to the individual such a spouse, friend, family member or co-worker. Spouses often take on more than the normal share of domestic responsibilities such as household chores, leaving them feeling tired and burned out. Some experience a range of emotions like sadness, anger, resentment and even guilt for feeling negatively.
When a spouse or friend is avoidant of social activities, the other party’s social life might suffer, too. A once-socially active person can be left feeling “dragged down” and isolated as a result of his or her loved one’s disorder. This is why self-care is absolutely essential to maintaining mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. The following strategies are a good form of self-care.
- It’s important not to give up on your own life, passions and interests. Take time for yourself and don’t neglect your own social life. If you want to have the energy and patience necessary to truly care for your loved one, your own needs have to be met. A healthy, happy you means a better spouse, friend or family member for your loved one.
- Find a healthy support network. Confide in a trustworthy family member or friend, but also be sure to respect your loved one’s confidence in you and privacy. Join a support group so you can talk to other caregivers who are in a similar situation and can relate to your experiences. Having a support system helps you cope emotionally.
- Set boundaries. Having a loved one with anxiety can be difficult. Set clear boundaries and limits for what you are willing and unwilling to do for him or her. Let your loved one know where the line is. For example, you are there for him or her when he or she wants to talk, but you aren’t able to take calls when you are at work or after a certain time of night.
- Attend therapy together if you need more help. If your loved one ceases treatment or refuses to do anything to address his or her disorder, don’t be afraid to speak with him or her about your concerns. If you need help speaking with your loved one about your feelings or boundaries, consider attending therapy together. Professional help like couples’ therapy are a good idea to help aid constructive communication. With the right plan, care and strategies from professionals, as well as self-care, you and your loved one can experience an improved quality of life, renewed hope and a brighter tomorrow.
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