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.
- 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.
- 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.
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
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