How Can I Build a Healthy Relationship With a Family Member With Anxiety?
Anxiety is a devastating mental illness and one from which millions of Americans suffer. Unfortunately, the pain of watching a loved one who suffers from any number of anxiety types can be debilitating. You want to help, but you aren’t sure how. Fortunately, there are ways you can do so, keep up a healthy relationship with your loved one and still maintain solid personal boundaries. Here are a few tips on how you can do just that.
Understanding the Disorder
Understanding the type of anxiety disorder your family member is struggling with can help you better understand them. For example, “anxiety” is a broad word, but there are many different types of anxiety disorders, such as General Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and more. Just because someone you love has anxiety doesn’t mean that their life is over or that they will lose the ability to function in society — it just means that their life will be different.
As hard as it can be, it is important that you set boundaries with your family members. Of course, there may be moments where they need to rely on you more than normal, but you still may find it necessary to set ground rules for when they can and cannot call you and things they cannot discuss with you. For example, it’s wildly inappropriate and highly problematic for a mother or father to complain to their child about their partner — and your other parent. There are also times when you simply may not be able to communicate. Set these boundaries and hold your loved ones to them. You deserve it.
Encouraging Without Pushing
There is a fine line to balance here. On one hand, you want to push your loved one’s boundaries and encourage them to do things that will benefit their mental health, like get exercise, be more social, or see a therapist. However, you don’t want to be seen as a nag. Each person is different, and individual strategies for walking this line will vary, but it’s important for you to keep in mind that you don’t want to push your loved one into thinking that you are somehow judging their behavior.
Ask How You Can Help
Sometimes, the simplest way you can help a family member with anxiety problems is by asking what they need and what styles of help they need. Everyone reacts differently to anxiety, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t really work. To that end, make a point of asking your family members how you can help and what sort of assistance they need. Some people want deep conversations; others simply want to be left alone. Regardless, find out what your loved one needs, and follow their lead.
Pay Attention to Your Own Behavior
Remember, having a loved one with a mental illness can be highly stressful and problematic to you, too. It will cause you pain, anguish and may alter your own behavior. It’s important that you care for yourself and watch your own behavior. You have to do this for many reasons. First, caring for yourself is the only way you can really care for your loved one. Second, you owe it to yourself. Having an anxious loved one shouldn’t cause you to stop caring for your own mental health.
Convince Them to See a Professional
While anxiety can be an exceptionally painful thing to suffer from, there is good news, with professional assistance from a therapist, people can recover and lead healthy, normal lives. As such, part of your job as a loved one needs to be to help your family members care for themselves. This can be tough — particularly if your loved one doesn’t want to see a therapist — but there are specific techniques you can use to help get them to see the benefits of speaking with a professional.
Don’t Try to Be a Therapist
There is a reason that professional therapists have to go through extensive testing and training, it’s a hard job, and one which requires years of work to get right. Unless you are already a therapist, don’t try to be the therapist to your loved one. That’s not your job, and it shouldn’t be. Remember, your job is to provide support, an open mind, and open arms. If your family member needs a therapist, a better bet would be to encourage them to see a professional.
Having a loved one with anxiety is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your relationship, but you will very likely cause changes for both of you. This disorder will require time, patience and understanding on your part. Remember, every relationship has struggles, and helping your loved one cope with their anxiety may be one of theirs. Treat them as you would want to be treated, and you will likely be doing the best job you can for the family member that you care about.
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