Psychoeducation for the social network of someone with an anxiety disorder

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What is an anxiety disorder?

If someone is struggling with an anxiety disorder, their level of anxiety is not representative of what the person is afraid of. For example, someone may suddenly be very afraid of going out to run a simple errand. This will cause the person a lot of suffering every day, for example because he or she starts to avoid things. However, avoidance perpetuates the fear. This can cause someone to fall into a downward spiral, causing him or her to experience more and more anxiety with more and more things.

 

What does someone with an anxiety disorder feel?

An anxiety disorder is a disruption of the natural fear response. During a fear response, your body prepares to flee: your heart rate goes up, more oxygen flows to your brain and your muscles tighten. You may sweat more and your body can begin to tremble. With an anxiety disorder, someone will suffer from a fear reaction much more often or more intensely, even in situations where such a fear reaction may not be necessary at all. As a result, the body cannot recover properly and they can feel stressed, tense and fatigued more often. This leads to small things, such as visiting friends, costing a lot of energy. This may cause the person to avoid these types of activities and consequently increases their anxiety.

 

What can you do?

  • Provide a listening ear and show understanding.
  • Ask what you can and cannot help someone with. Does someone need involvement or distance? Discuss where the boundaries lie and do not take on too much without consultation.
  • Read more about anxiety disorders so that you are better able to understand the other person’s situation. Information can be found in the anxiety library or on the MIND OR Thuisarts
  • Support without judgment or disapproval. Try to do this with patience and warmth. Encourage and stimulate the other in an understanding way.
  • Realize that the other has and must keep control. Do not exert too much pressure and do not take control, that is counterproductive.
  • Do not push them too far when it comes to things they want to avoid.
  • Do not try to downplay the other person’s fear.
  • There are ways you might be able to help with the treatment, to help with your family’s/friend’s recovery. The professional can give advice on how to do this. Always know your own limits; you are not the professional!
  • Try to remain positive towards your loved one with psychological complaints, for example by pointing out things that are going well.

 

What not to do:

  • Don’t try to criticize or give advice. This can make someone insecure.
  • Try not to apply pressure when the other person is not ready for it.
  • Do not try to tell him/her what is wrong with him/her or what he/she is doing wrong.

 

Take care of yourself

Be careful not to overburden yourself in caring for the other. Get plenty of relaxation, fun and find a place to vent. It can be nice to talk to people who are going through the same thing; this is called contact with fellow sufferers and, for example, can be done through the Angst, Dwang en Fobie Stichting. If it becomes too much for you, consider seeking (professional) support yourself.

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