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.