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How to help someone who’s living with an anxiety disorder

People who experience anxiety disorders and their families may spend months, even years, without knowing what is wrong. It can be frustrating, often putting a strain on relationships. Even with a diagnosis, some strain often lingers, and recovery may be a long process.

Family members who want to help may not know how. An important fact to keep in mind is that anxiety disorders are real, serious, but treatable medical conditions. Reliable evidence links panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other anxiety disorders to brain chemistry. Furthermore, events can trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder in someone who is genetically predisposed.

Like other illnesses, anxiety disorders can take a toll on family and friends. Household routines may be disrupted, special plans or allowances may be necessary, and the person with the disorder may be reluctant to participate in social activities, which can have a negative impact on family dynamics.

Family members should learn about the disorder to help them know what to expect from the illness as well as the recovery process. They should also learn when to exercise patience and when to exert a little pressure.

Family support is important to the recovery process, but it is not the cure. Getting better takes hard work, mostly from the person with the disorder, and patience, from everyone involved.

Here are some things family members can do to help a loved one diagnosed with an anxiety disorder:

  • Learn about the disorder.
  • Recognize and praise small accomplishments.
  • Modify expectations during stressful periods.
  • Measure progress on the basis of individual improvement, not against some absolute standard.
  • Be flexible and try to maintain a normal routine.

It is also important for family members to keep in mind that the recovery process is stressful for them too. It is helpful to build a support network of relatives and friends. With appropriate treatment from a mental health professional, an anxiety disorder can be overcome, leading to a better quality of life for everyone.

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