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Anxiety Disorders: How to Help the One You Love

By Edited Mar 21, 2016 10 26

As a child I was terrified of school. No one knew why or what to do about it. I finally got over it and then in my early twenties, started having panic attacks. I eventually got over those, but not for a very long time. When my father died, I again began having anxiety problems and panic attacks. My doctor finally put me on medication and I have been better, but still trying to learn how to overcome my anxiety disorder completely. One of the hardest and most painful things about having an anxiety disorder is that it can be very misunderstood by people who don't have them. If you know someone who has this and you want to help them, I have some tips and information that might help you.

1. Realize it's not their fault.

For some reason a lot of people think that having panic attacks is just a sign of weakness. I have been told to "buck up", "just get control of yourself" and "stop being so emotional". If I could do all those things, I wouldn't have an anxiety disorder. But what is not understood is that the person can't help what their feeling. Believe me, people who have this disorder do not want to live like this. It is terrifying, embarrassing, frustrating, overwhelming and can lead to loss of confidence and feelings of shame. We don't understand why we are feeling this way and why we can't control it. So the first major tip is to realize it's not their fault. If they got hit by a car and had injuries, you wouldn't blame them for what they couldn't do because of those injuries. Think of their anxiety disorder in the same way.

2. They aren't crazy.

One of the first things you experience when you develop an anxiety disorder is the feeling that you must be going crazy. It is scary and only adds to the anxiety. We aren't crazy, even though it may seem so to those who have never experienced anything like this. Anxiety disorders are just that...disorders. But people who have them aren't crazy and they need to know that you don't think they are. I am not without some sympathy for the people around us who don't understand. It is a confusing problem to deal with, but if you care about that person, you'll learn all you can and let them know you understand. A strong support team, or even just one person who supports them, is one of the greatest gifts an anxiety disorder  sufferer can have.

3. Be there for them.

Having an anxiety problem can make it hard to do simple things others take for granted. Just doing the grocery shopping can become a nerve-wracking experience for them and they may even have to leave the store if they feel a panic attack coming on. They may become so afraid of having these attacks, they become agoraphobic and fear leaving the house at all. This happened to me in my twenties and took several years to get over. If they need someone to drive them to the store and help them shop, be there for them. It also is crucial that they have someone to talk to about their feelings. This is generally true for anyone having problems and this is no different. Just being able to talk about it will help them. Just listen without judgement. Let them know you are trying your best to understand, even if you don't totally, and that you are still there for them.

4.Don't push them.

While the person with an anxiety disorder may need to push themselves a little bit to try to face and overcome their fears, they need to do it on their own schedule. So if you're out with them and they feel like they need to leave a store or just go back home, don't push them to go on. This will  only increase their anxiety and probably cause a huge panic attack. When their anxiety level gets overwhelming, the flight response is going to kick in. Hopefully, in time, and depending on which course of treatment they get, they will be able to push themselves a little farther. But until they can do it, they have to know that it won't cause any problem to you. Just be relaxed and let them know that it's fine if you have to leave. They feel bad enough about not being able to do whatever it is they want to do without being made to feel like a huge annoyance to everyone.

5. Help them get help.

There are  different methods of treatment for anxiety disorders, from therapy to medications, and it is very important to seek out help. A visit to your family doctor should help you decide which route to go. Some people are very embarrassed or hesitant to talk to anyone about this problem, even their doctor. You need to encourage them to do so, but gently. Let them know there is no shame in their problem, millions of others have it, and that it will help them to overcome it. The truth is that it is a very common problem. In the world we live in today, the stress can become overwhelming. I am amazed at how many people have just recently told me that they, too, suffer from an anxiety disorder. I hope that by reading this, it will help you understand your loved ones disorder and help them to overcome it. Having dealt with this, on and off, for most of my life, I know how important the support is. It is one of the most valuable tools they can have.  



Aug 13, 2011 3:18pm
Great advice Sheila! I agree that we shouldn't push anyone to do something they feel they can't do, regardless of how easy we think it is. People have to work through their fears and anxiety at their own pace. Nice article!
Aug 13, 2011 11:08pm
Thanks Introspective!
Aug 13, 2011 9:19pm
My anxiety start at school age I did not want to go to school I would hide under the bed. I also have social anxiety disorder. I did great for years I held a job and everything I was happy go lucky. Than I got my first anxiety attack I thought I was going to die. I thought I was having a heart attack. Than fear consumed me I got to where I couldn't even grocery shop. I would break out into a sweat and feel like I am going to pass out. As far as being a whimp. Have you heard of fight or flight I am not just consumed by fear but anger and frustration this causes me to get violent. When I am not a violent person at all. So I can relate to you completely. Everything you said and your right people just don't understand. Great article! Vote up and Ping!
Aug 13, 2011 11:12pm
Tamron, it is a complex problem and people don't realize all the different things you have to suffer through. I can understand the anger and frustration. While it doesn't cause me to get violent, I have felt like puching something at times because of it. Good luck to you and thanks for the vote up and ping!
Aug 25, 2011 1:52am
I think you are very brave to have posted this as a personal, first-person article.

I have written about chronic depression (as a chronic depressive) so I completely "get" the whole embarrassment and stigma associated with such a problem. My best friend in college was an agorophobe, and I didn't understand his problem at all. Later in life when I developed my own "issue" (for which Prozac has worked wonders) I realized I was not very enlightened about his condition or just how awful he felt about it.

Excellent work, and you did a great job of explaining about how hard it is to "explain" yourself to others.
Aug 25, 2011 11:29am
I completely agree with vicdillinger, in that a very large "Well done" is in order for writing about a difficult topic with such insight! Sheila, I love this article and well done for being featured!
Aug 26, 2011 3:24pm
Thanks so much vicdillinger and Mama Earth. I used to keep my problem a big secret, but finally decided it was nothing to be ashamed of. The more we can talk about these problems, the better it is. Thanks for letting me know I did a good job of it.
Aug 27, 2011 4:23am
Just wanted to add one more thing -- your avatar photo rocks!!
Aug 27, 2011 2:25pm
Thanks so much!
Aug 27, 2011 2:21am
Awesome article. My husband has an anxiety disorder and has had a really bad time of it this year. I wish more people understood this stuff.
Aug 27, 2011 2:27pm
I wish they did too. That's why I wanted to write about it. It is so important to have some support from someone and I'm sure you are giving that to your husband. The very best thing he can have is you on his side. Hope things get better for him and you.
Aug 28, 2011 5:59pm
I also liked your article. I think that everyone has had some type of anxiety at one time or another but either don't recognize it as such, or do not want to share it. Maybe it only happened once or twice, but it still happened. I find it sad that people are so judgmental at times. Good luck!!!
Aug 28, 2011 11:30pm
Everyone does have anxiety, you're right. The only problem is that this is part of why some people don't understand an anxiety disorder. They say, "I've been anxious, but it went away." I guess on a simple level, that for the person with the disorder, it doesn't go away and is very very intense. You're also right that it is sad that people are so judgemental, but that's human nature, I guess. I know on a personal level, I learned over the years not to judge if I had never been in that persons position, but it took me years to come to that! Thanks for your response and wishing me good luck.
Aug 31, 2011 10:02am
Great article- from a frequent anxiety sufferer. Especially love the 'don't push them' section. I could have done with that kind of understanding during one of my bad periods.
Aug 31, 2011 2:20pm
Catherine, thanks for the comment. I hope articles like mine will help others understand this disorder better and let them know what kind of support we need. Hang in there. Love your picture!
Sep 1, 2011 2:42pm
I had an intense physical illness a while back which actually caused my heartrate to rocket sporadically, mirroring physical symptoms of a panic attack. It's strange how this then caused me to panic mentally as well about what was going on with my body; basically an anxious disorder in reverse, physical first, pyschological second.
I have such a different opinion about anxiety disorder now I have had this one small glimse into how scary and out of control it truely feels to suffer from it.
Great article thanks
Sep 1, 2011 3:03pm
Thanks Jen. Sorry you had that reaction...hope all is well with you now. I know this sounds terrible, but I wish doctors (and others who think anxiety disorders are a bunch of baloney) could just experience that feeling for even five minutes. Like you, it would give them a whole new view of it. I had one doctor who had gone through panic attacks and he understood completely. The one I'm going to now, I'm not sure he understands. Anyway, thanks for the comment and I hope you never have to go through it again!
Sep 2, 2011 5:27pm
Anxiety is a big problem for many people so if you don't realize it is a disorder and must be treated it could be very problematic for our health and well-being.
Sep 2, 2011 10:49pm
danmont, you are so right. It's sometimes hard to admit that your anxiety is beyond normal and a real problem. But it is so important to try to get help, because it's a shame for anyone to live with this disorder. Thanks for the comment.
Sep 9, 2011 2:42am
I was the exact same way as a child--terrified of going to school. My parents took the old school approach and decided that simply forcing me to go--even if that meant dragging me kicking and screaming--would be beneficial. Luckily we've made a lot of progress since then in understanding childhood anxiety, but it is still overlooked all-too-often.
Sep 10, 2011 12:59am
Ashmerleau, you are so right, it is so important that we have realized more about children's anxiety. I was very lucky because my mom tried to help me. Back in those days, parents would "work" (for free) at the school just helping out the teacher and things. She spent a lot of time at my school so she could be near for me. They called it "school phobia" back then, but didn't really know what was causing it or what to do about it. I'm glad that anxiety problems, as a whole, have become more understood. Sorry you went through that as a child...it's a frightening experience.
Sep 13, 2011 5:33pm
Enjoyed reading your article; you've made valid points. It is very difficult for people who've not experienced panic/anxiety to understand what the other person is going through. They mean well, but trying to force someone to do something that at the moment terrifies them only escalates the problem.
Sep 13, 2011 11:32pm
I know how hard it is for people who don't have this condition to understand it. It is very hard to explain what an anxiety sufferer is going through. That's one reason I wanted to write this article, to try to help people understand. The main thing is just wanting to understand it. A lot of people just blow it off and say it's just "nerves" or "being too emotional". For anyone who is reading this that doesn't have an anxiety disorder, I send you a big hug! Thanks for caring enough to want to help someone.
Apr 17, 2013 1:19am
It's interesting that many of us had the same fear of going to school.
May 8, 2013 10:35am
Thanks so much for sharing - it is great that you give advice to supporting loved ones. Anxiety can be hard for people to understand, and therefore it can be a challenge trying to help people close to you who are struggling with it.
May 8, 2013 10:39pm
Thanks for commenting. To be honest, it used to anger me that people could not understand this, but I realized it is a very hard problem to understand unless you have it! That's why I hope my articles help both the one who suffers from anxiety and those who care about them.
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