HELPING A FAMILY MEMBER
Sufferers of anxiety disorders and their families may spend months, even years, without knowing what is wrong. It can be frustrating and can put a strain on relationships; this strain is not necessarily alleviated once there is a diagnosis. Recovery can be a long process.
Family members often want to help the sufferer, but do not know how. An important fact to keep in mind is that anxiety disorders are real, serious, but treatable medical conditions. Having one is not a sign of weakness or lack of moral fiber. There is reliable evidence linking Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and other anxiety disorders to brain chemistry, and even life events can trigger the onset of an anxiety disorder in a person who is genetically predisposed.
Like any other illness, anxiety disorders can take a toll on the family and friends of the sufferer. Household routines are disrupted, sometimes special plans or allowances need to be made, and the person with the disorder may be reluctant to participate in typical social activities. These factors can have a negative impact on family dynamics. Family members should learn as much as they can about the disorder, which will help them know what to expect from the illness and from the recovery process. Family members should also learn when to be patient with the sufferer and when to push.
Family support is important to the recovery process, but there is no magic cure. Getting better takes hard work, mostly on the part of the sufferer, and patience, mostly on the part of the family. Some things family members can do to help a loved one diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are:
- 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. They should build a support network of relatives and friends for themselves. Remember that with proper treatment by a mental health professional anxiety disorders can be overcome.