How to Get Support
Finding a Therapist
To find a therapist who specializes in anxiety, see this directory of the Anxiety & Depression Association of America:
Creating a Support Team
Who do you have in your life right now that you would like to have on your “support team” for recovery? How to be a good supporter: being willing to just listen and be encouraging – that’s all it takes!
For me, there were three big obstacles to getting support: self-blame, shame and secrecy.
Everyone experiences anxiety. When anxiety is so high that it greatly interferes with life, then we call it “anxiety disorder.”
The latest research shows that about 30% of the population will have some form of anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. That’s almost one out of three people!
It’s really kind of silly to blame yourself for having an anxiety disorder. Did you ask to get it? Did you apply for it? Of course not. So how is it your fault? It isn’t!
Anxiety disorder affects our self-esteem. But we didn’t get it intentionally, and there’s no reason for self-blame.
It’s natural to feel sensitive about having an anxiety disorder or any big personal challenge.
But remember, about 30% of the population will have one of the anxiety disorders during their lifetime. 30%! Should all of these people go through life feeling ashamed? Of course not.
It makes no sense to feel ashamed of just being human.
Having an anxiety disorder means dealing with a big challenge, but it can also mean being more sensitive, having more empathy for other people, and being more creative. And none of these things are anything to be ashamed of.
Being involved in the process of recovery is something to feel proud of. It can actually be a source of self-esteem.
[Credit to Dr. David Carbonell for some of the ideas in this section.]
There is often a big temptation to keep anxiety disorder a secret. This is because secrecy is a form of avoidance. In the short run, it protects us from any possible criticism or embarrassment. But at what cost? Well, the cost is pretty high, because secrecy can prevent us from building a good “support team” for our recovery.
Dealing with the secrecy issue does not have to be “all or nothing.” You get to choose who you tell and how to tell them.
When thinking about who you might tell, what do you think are the chances that the response will be negative and critical? Do your friends and family usually respond that way? Or do they usually respond with some caring and compassion?
Let’s suppose a friend confided in you that they had an anxiety disorder. Would you respond by blaming them, criticizing them or making fun of them? Or would you respond with caring and understanding?
Let’s take a look at some of the “pluses” and “minuses” of secrecy. First, here are three “pluses” to keeping anxiety disorder a secret:
1. You get to avoid the small chance of being criticized or blamed for having anxiety disorder.
2. You get to avoid feeling embarrassed about having an anxiety disorder.
3. You get to avoid an experience with a friend or family member that might be quite emotional.
So, those are three advantages of secrecy. Now, let’s look at the “minuses”:
1. You miss out on starting to build a great support team, that can be of tremendous help in your recovery.
2. You imagine that people would react with blame and criticism, which is not very pleasant for you, and is not really fair to them. You don’t really get to avoid the blame and criticism, because you imagine it. And what you imagine is probably a lot worse than what the reality would be.
3. You might have to make up excuses about why you can’t go somewhere or do something, and that means that you have to lie to someone that you care about and that cares about you.
Building a Support Team
Once we start to let go of blame, shame and secrecy, we can start building a support team for recovery.
Here’s how to get started in building your support team:
- Make a list of friends and family members that you think might be good members for your team.
- Choose the one that you think might be the easiest to start with.
- Plan to have a private conversation.
- See if you can just allow yourself to feel whatever you feel: nervousness, embarrassment, sadness. Most people respond very positively when someone is being genuine with their feelings.
Telling Others About Your Path of Recovery
For me, one of the big turning points in my healing from panic disorder and agoraphobia was when I started to be open with my friends and family. Secrecy and shame were a big part of the condition for me, and starting to be open was a huge step in my healing.
A few people were uncomfortable, but the great majority were very supportive. It’s amazing how many people know someone who either suffers with this condition or has recovered from it!
The way I told people about the condition was very important. Instead of saying “I have agoraphobia,” I said “I am recovering from agoraphobia.” Saying it the second way was an affirmation of my healing, and people generally responded in a very supportive way.
Before telling people about my healing path, I wrote the following paragraphs to “rehearse”. My diagnosis was “panic disorder with agoraphobia,” but to simplify things, I just called the condition “agoraphobia”.
“I am recovering from an anxiety disorder called agoraphobia. Agoraphobia almost always starts with repeated panic attacks. Agoraphobia is the fear of having a panic attack if you go too far from home or get into situations from which you feel you can’t easily escape.
Don’t worry about my having a panic attack, because nothing bad actually happens. Panic attacks are extremely unpleasant, but they are harmless.
All that this condition really means for you is that I might say “no” to some invitations if I feel I’m not quite ready to do something. One of the keys to overcoming agoraphobia is making steady, gradual progress and doing new activities when you are ready.”
10 Steps to Becoming a Great Support Person
When a member of your support team asks how they can be helpful, you can share this list:
1. Acknowledge the suffering
2. Appreciate how challenging the condition is
3. Be patient
4. Be supportive
5. Don’t criticize
6. Don’t push: One of the keys to recovery is learning to take small steps, at one’s own pace
7. Don’t overreact to the symptoms: Symptoms are scary, but not dangerous. Trying to take away the scary feelings is actually not helpful, because true recovery means learning to deal with the scary feelings on one’s own.
8. Give gentle encouragement
9. Give recognition for small steps and small successes
10. Learn more about anxiety disorder