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How Not To Help Your Family Member With Anxiety

Yesterday I was out of town at a counseling conference about anxiety.  It was so fascinating, and I scribbled all over my booklet with little brain bursts.  I realized that I needed to readjust some of my thoughts on managing anxiety.  Makes me wonder how many other people who deal with anxiety need some new info, too.

So here is a short list of some things I learned yesterday about how to help your family member with anxiety, and some things that could make it worse.

What Not To Do For Anxiety

* Being “too helpful” – When your mom feels like she just can’t get through that church luncheon without you there to calm her down, you might be giving too much help.  That keeps the idea in her mind that her “survival” through her anxiety is due to you rather than anything she might be doing to calm herself.

* Saying – “Just relax” – Most people can’t relax at the flip of a switch.  It often takes practice and time to really feel it.  And if you have spent a good amount of time feeling NOT relaxed, how do you even know how to get there?  This well-meaning comment can actually reinforce how much they can’t relax.

* Saying – “Just think about something happy, or something that doesn’t stress you out”.  Well, if someone says, “Think about something other than the bad economy,” what’s the very first thing that pops into your mind?  The bad economy!!  It comes up because it was suggested or it was already there.  Then you are given the suggestion to stop thinking about it, but it’s all you can do.  Once again, a feeling of failure and shame can come from this.

These are just a few of the things that you or someone else might say to their loved ones with anxiety.  You can see them suffering, you hear it in their words, you notice behaviors that don’t seem quite right.  Of course, you want to help, but what can you do that will actually help?

Help Your Anxious Family Member Really Get Better

Anxiety is both the number one mental health problem in the US and one of the most treatable.  It’s more common than people think and good recovery is certainly attainable.  One way to address anxiety is through self-help options.  Be cautious of programs or books that only teach a person how to relax, to breath differently, or to just magically change your thoughts.  Those are each very important, but they don’t quite get to the basic problem all on their own.  You need to look for something that will help someone change their *relationship* with their thoughts and feelings.

Also, a great therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders can be helpful.  Again, learning to live with anxiety is going to be a more attainable goal than “getting rid of anxiety forever.”  A therapist who promises this is living in a fantasy world.  People with anxiety can be helped by medications.  However, in order to learn how to live with anxiety, too much medication make it go away too much.  It might be challenging to really learn the coping skills if you don’t feel the feeling or have the thoughts much anymore.  Medication is a personal choice and should be discussed with your doctor and or therapist.

Anxiety can make a person rearrange their whole life in unhealthy ways that perpetuate the problem.  This can be so stressful for parent, children, grandparents, and extended family.  You and your family need to make the treatment choice that seems best for your situation.  But letting anxiety go on unchecked will just let it fester longer.  A significant anxiety problem becomes a way of life, and is not likely to go away on it’s own.

Here’s a link to the trainer I saw – Dave Carbonell at

How Not To Help Your Family Member With Anxiety

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2009). How Not To Help Your Family Member With Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Apr 2009
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