How to Help a Family Member With an Anxiety Disorder

Ten steps to help a family member with an anxiety disorder.

  1. Ten steps to help a family member with an anxiety disorder.Be predictable, don't surprise them. If you say you are going to meet them somewhere at a certain time, be there. If you agree to respond to a certain anxious habit in a certain way, stick to the plan.

  2. Don't assume that you know what the affected person needs, ask them. Make a mutual plan about how to fight the anxiety problem.

  3. Let the person with the disorder set the pace for recovery. Its going to take months to change avoidance patterns, expect slow but increasingly difficult goals to be attempted.

  4. Find something positive in every attempt at progress. If the affected person is only able to go part way to a particular goal, consider that an achievement rather than a failure. Celebrate new achievements, even small ones.

  5. Don't enable. That means don't let them too easily avoid facing their fears, yet DO NOT FORCE them. Negotiate with the person to take one more step when he or she wants to avoid something. Gradually stop cooperating with compulsive or avoidant habits that the person may be asking you to perform. Try to come to an agreement about which anxiety habit you're going to stop cooperating with. Take this gradually, it's an important but difficult strategy.

  6. Don't sacrifice your own life activities too often and then build resentments. If something is extremely important to you, learn to say so, and if it's not, drop it. Give each other permission to do things independently and to also plan pleasurable time together.

  7. Don't get emotional when the person with the disorder panics. Remember that panic feels truly horrible in spite of the fact that it is not dangerous in any way. Balance your responses somewhere between empathizing with the real fear a person is experiencing and not overly focusing on this fear.

  8. Do say: 'I am proud of you for trying. Tell me what you need now. Breath slow and low. Stay in the present. It's not the place that's bothering you, it's the thought. I know that what you are feeling is painful, but it is not dangerous.' Don't say: ' Don't be anxious. Let's set up a test to see if you can do this. Don't be ridiculous. You have to stay, you have to do this. Don't be a coward.'

  9. Never ridicule or criticize a person for becoming anxious or panicky. Be patient and empathetic, but don't settle for the affected person being permanently stagnant and disabled.

  10. Encourage them to seek out therapy with a therapist who has experience treating their specific type of problem. Encourage sticking with therapy for as long as steady attempts at progress are being made. If visible progress comes to a stop for too long, help them to re-evaluate how much progress they did make, and to renew their initial efforts at getting better.


  • Freedom From Fear, a national non-profit mental illness advocacy organization

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APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2007, February 18). How to Help a Family Member With an Anxiety Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: July 3, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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