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Panic Disorder

HELP FOR THE FAMILY When one member of a family has panic disorder, the entire family is affected by the condition. Family members may be frustrated in their attempts to help the affected member cope with the disorder, overburdened by taking on additional responsibilities, and socially isolated. Family members must encourage the person with panic disorder to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional. Also, it is often helpful for family members to attend an occasional treatment or self-help session or seek the guidance of the therapist in dealing with their feelings about the disorder.

Certain strategies, such as encouraging the person with panic disorder to go at least partway toward a place or situation that is feared, can be helpful. The director of one anxiety disorder clinic has developed a list of suggestions for family members who want to help loved ones cope with an anxiety disorder. By their skilled and caring efforts to help, family members can aid the person with panic disorder in making a recovery.

Also, it may be valuable for family members to join or form a support group to share information and offer mutual encouragement.

What to Do if a Family Member Has an Anxiety Disorder
  1. Don't make assumptions about what the affected person needs; ask them.
  2. Be predictable; don't surprise them.
  3. Let the person with the disorder set the pace for recovery.
  4. Find something positive in every experience. If the affected person is only able to go partway to a particular goal, such as a movie theater or party, consider that an achievement rather than a failure.
  5. Don't enable avoidance: negotiate with the person with panic disorder to take one step forward when he or she wants to avoid something.
  6. Don't sacrifice your own life and build resentments.
  7. Don't panic when the person with the disorder panics.
  8. Remember that it's alright to be anxious yourself; it's natural for you to be concerned and even worried about the person with panic disorder.
  9. Be patient and accepting, but don't settle for the affected person being permanently disabled.
  10. Say: "You can do it no matter how you feel. I am proud of you. Tell me what you need now. Breathe 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's not dangerous. You are courageous."
    Don't say: "Relax. Calm down. Don't be anxious. Let's see if you can do this (i.e., setting up a test for the affected person). You can fight this. What should we do next? Don't be ridiculous. You have to stay. Don't be a coward."

    (Adapted from Sally Winston, Psy.D., The Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland, Towson, MD, 1992.)

Brain and Mental Health

References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health

last update: February 2009

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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