Helping a Family Member with an Anxiety Disorder

– Posted in: Caregivers

Something is wrong, but you don’t know what it is.

It may take months or years for you and your family members to finally realize that you have an Anxiety Disorder

But those months and years have put a strain on relationships, household routines, and maybe even finances. Even with a diagnosis, some strain often lingers, and recovery can be a long process.

Partners and family members may want to help may not know how. They may do all the wrong things at the wrong time. As one commenter on this blog said, “I try and tell them to just leave me — I leave the room when [Anxiety and Panic] kick in — but people will not.”

This post will help you understand the strains on a family when one of its members has an Anxiety Disorder. It will also give you positive suggestions to help you help your family member.

Anxiety Disorders take a toll on the family

Anxiety Disorders can take a real toll on family and friends. They can be as disruptive as physical ailments, and sometimes more so. Among the strains the family may experience are:

Normal family activities

  • Household routines and plans are disturbed.
  • Special plans or allowances may need to be made for the Anxiety sufferer.
  • Family members must often take on the full burden of handling responsibilities such as bills, shopping, and driving the kids to their activities.

Finances and employment

  • The person with the Anxiety Disorder may find it difficult to get or keep a job.
  • There may be serious financial strains that create major hardships for the family.
  • Family members may have to step in to help financially support for the family, often a stressful role that they do not wish to have.

Social life

  • The person with the Anxiety Disorder may be reluctant to participate in routine social activities, which can have a negative effect on family dynamics.
  • Special plans for vacations and social events may have to be modified or cancelled.
  • Partners of the person with Anxiety Disorder often feel isolated, since couples often spend their time with other couples.

Emotional well-being

  • The family’s emotional state may suffer due to the family upheaval and economic hardships that an Anxiety Disorder may cause.
  • Family members and partners may feel sad, depressed or scared for the family’s well-being. They may feel angry or resentful, and guilty for feeling that way.
  • Family members, and especially children, may feel abandoned, neglected or frightened. 

How can you support a family member with an Anxiety Disorder?

If a family member has an Anxiety Disorder, you can make their improvement and recovery easier by providing support, encouragement and creating an environment that promotes healing. Below are some everyday tips that will help:

  • Learn about the Anxiety Disorder. Some resources are listed at the bottom of this post.
  • Encourage treatment, and help the person keep appointments and take medications.
  • Be flexible and try to maintain a normal routine.
  • Aim for positive reinforcement of healthy behavior, rather than only criticizing irrational fear, avoidance, or rituals (“Catch them doing something right”).
  • Recognize and praise small accomplishments.
  • Modify expectations during stressful periods.
  • Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some absolute standard.
  • Help set specific goals that are realistic and that can be approached one step at a time.
  • Don’t assume you know what is needed. Ask how you can help. Listen carefully to the response.
  • Acknowledge that you don’t understand if you’re never personally experienced a panic attack or other form of irrational anxiety.
  • Understand that knowing when to be patient and when to push can be challenging. It’s a fine line. Achieving a proper balance often requires trial and error.
  • Remember, recovery requires hard work on the part of the individual, and patience on the part of the partner and family. It may seem like a slow process, but the rewards are well worth it.

Conclusion

The challenges to the family with a person with Anxiety Disorder can be daunting. 

Family members and partners may feel understandably overwhelmed and burned out from bearing most of the burden for family activities that often come so easily to other couples and families. It is also important for family members to keep in mind that the recovery process is stressful for them, too.

Family support is essential to the recovery process. But it is not the cure. Getting better and staying better takes hard work, mostly from the person involved. And it takes patience from everyone, family and friends alike.

But it is important to remember that with treatment, people with Anxiety Disorders can go on to lead a normal, productive life that include a successful career, thriving social lives and busy schedules.

What do you think?

  • Do you or have you had a family member with an Anxiety Disorder?
  • How have you coped?
  • Can you make any additions or suggestions to this post?

As always, your comments are welcome!

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Resources used in this post:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (2007, June). When Your Partner Has an Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved July 16, 2008 from Anxiety Disorders Association of America Web site: http://www.adaa.org/gettinghelp/MFarchives/MonthlyFeatures(june07).asp

Anxiety Disorders Association of America. (2007). Helping a Family Member. Retrieved June 27, 2008 from Anxiety Disorders Association of America Web site:http://www.adaa.org/GettingHelp/HelpAFamilyMember.asp

Resources for the family

Anxiety Disorders Self-Test for Family Members – Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Anxiety Disorders Association of America  

Caregiver.com  

How to Take Care of Yourself When Your Partner Has an Anxiety Disorder 

Search for Specific Anxiety Disorders – Mayo Clinic  

National Institute of Mental Health Anxiety Disorders Overview

Strength for Caring  

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5 Comments… add one
Rick Conte May 13, 2012, 7:00 pm

Great article but how do you handle a spouse that feels that she does not have a problem? Any suggestions that she has an anxiety disorder is met with very defensive tirades and accusations that she is not the problem. It has been very clear for years that she has multiple anxiety issues and probably manic depression. We have four small children and she can be vicious towards me and the kids. If I even make the slightest observation or suggestion, I had better be prepared to pay for my actions. She will lecture me and the kids and tell us how we make her life miserable and she does all the work in our family.

I have been “doing the right thing” for years trying to accommodate her to try and give the kids a normal childhood. I can continue this but it is difficult.

I guess the purpose of writing this is to ask how do you convince someone they have a problem and should seek profssional help?

Angela Henert June 28, 2012, 11:18 pm

I would really like to see the answer to Rick’s question above. My sister is a text book case of S.A.D. And although she realizes it, but she doesn’t seek help until she gets some relief. As her sister, I’m sad for her, for her husband, for her kids, for our parents, for my other sister, and for me. Life is short and passing her by. I’m saddened that I can’t have a normal, happy relationship with my sister. She loves everyone, but can’t particpate in life that is required to grow relationships or maintain them. I go back and forth between angry and sad. I don’t know whether to cut her off or hug her. The part that she doesn’t seek help makes me want to cut her off. She does not only hurt herself, but everyone around her. What can I do?

Jdog June 3, 2013, 3:03 pm

This is what I’m doing. It sucks but it’s what must be done.

My wifes attitude towards me was so attrocious because of her high anxiety. It doesn’t matter what I did to try and get her to love me. Everything I did failed. It doesn’t matter what I did… she just wasn’t interested. She admited to me that the only reason I was around was for my fathering skills and me being a handy man around the house. (keep in mind I’ve always been a faithful husband and there has never been any incident that has deserved her negative feelings toward me)
My wife has totally abandoned our marriage relationship. It was clear to me that she values our 4 kids way more than her measly husband. She want’s them to have me as a father. (because I’m an awesome dad)

So here’s what I did. I left. Yep I moved out. My kids didn’t know it though because I’d come home in the morning before they left for school and left to my apartment at night. This freaked my wife out enough to where it woke her up. That I indeed would not put up with her not doing anything about her condition. That I would tell the kids that their parents were getting a divorce. I told my wife that if she didn’t get help that I would be gone and that I’d tell the kids.

She promptly made an appointment with some lady that’s an LPC. I’m now finding out that an LPC is more of a relationship counselor and not a phsyciatrist. I’m not convinced that this is the type of person that will solve anything but I’m gonna chill and see if this helps her at all. At least she’s doing something.

I hate to do that to her but I was left with no other choice. I will absolutely not live another year with a wife who does not respect and love herself or her husband.
Life is to short to be abused just because somebody else ha

Sarah July 20, 2015, 7:21 am

My husband suffers with anxiety, he was first diagnosed 10 years ago, to be fair to him he does try very hard to fight it, but when the drugs are not working and when it sometimes takes hold, living this is a nightmare. We have a young son and I try to protect him from witnessing the arguments and the dark days by acting normal.

We are just going through a dark patch now. His medication is being changed and so the side effects are horrendous, not only physical but mentally, I want to move out with my son while they stabilise but I’m too worried he will do something bad, I couldn’t leave my son with him, although I know he would never do anything to hurt us, it’s still there in the back of my mind.

I’m tired of treading on eggshells, of the conversations where you repeat yourself and have blame thrown at you, where you can’t understand why you are even having the conversation as to you it’s simple, normal, everyday life, but to them it’s the whole world is against them. But it’s all about them…
He is aware and unhappy at how it effects me, but he cannot control it.
My honest thoughts are that he needs somewhere to go, to get the medication stabilised along with alternative therapy to manage his anxiety and thought process, but there is no where unless you are a multi millionaire and can afford rehab!
Good luck and best wishes to you and your families that suffer with this awful mental health condition. Hopefully one day, there will be more help and support instead of just awareness adverts! X

jassmin delgado May 5, 2017, 6:45 pm

whats the best way to help m,y sister that is dealing with anxiety attacks

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