The demands of anxiety can consume a household. Family members often get pulled into their loved one’s worrying thoughts or repetitive behaviors. Understandably, parents will do anything they can to minimize an anxious child’s distress. Most family members have performed a family accommodation behavior for their anxious child. Family accommodation behavior is a change that an individual makes to their own behavior in effort to alleviate the loved one’s anxiety (e.g., checking the stove for them, cleaning, avoiding something that may make the person uncomfortable, etc.). In addition, family members may also provide reassurance such as trying to convince their loved one that “nothing bad will happen”. Unfortunately, serving as an accomplice to your child’s anxiety or providing constant reassurance will not lead to a reduction in symptoms. In fact, these behaviors will make the anxiety worse.
Anxiety has a neurobiological basis. Their brain is constantly sending “false alarms,” leading to a persistent feeling of doubt and dread. People with anxiety are not trying to frustrate, upset or overwhelm you or anyone else. Their feeling of worry and fear is overwhelming. The behaviors you see (e.g., avoidance, ruminating, reassurance seeking) are done in an effort to reduce their anxiety.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Family members can be taught to take an active role in their loved one’s treatment. In fact, research suggests that teaching parents how to respond to their child’s anxiety may be as effective at reducing anxiety symptoms in children as treating the child themselves. It is critical for parents to learn how to support their child by validating their emotions and demonstrating confidence in their ability to cope. Family accommodation behavior maintains the child’s anxiety in the long-term. It teaches children to become reliant on the parent to get rid of their distress instead of learning how to cope with it on their own. When you provide an accommodation, you are inadvertently signaling to your child: You can’t do this.
Examples of Common Accommodations
Eliminating unhelpful accommodations requires a strategic, consistent approach. It is not recommended to stop accommodating behaviors all at once. In addition, it is important that there is a unified approach to reducing accommodations. Reducing accommodations will not be effective if the accommodation simply shifts from one family member to another. An anxiety specialist can guide your family through the process of supporting your loved one and eliminating unhelpful accommodation behavior.
Engage in supportive communication with your loved one. Remember, all of you are working toward the shared goal of overcoming their anxiety. Continue to connect with your loved one about areas that are not driven by their anxiety such as shared interests, activities, and upcoming plans. Do not allow the anxiety to consume all conversations. Attending a family educational support group for anxiety, or seeing a family therapist with expertise in anxiety, can help facilitate family communication.
Family members typically report high levels of distress associated with coping with a loved one’s anxiety. Yet, they seldom seek professional help for themselves and instead focus on the individual with anxiety. Living with or caring for someone with anxiety can be challenging. It is important to take care of your own physical and mental needs. When you are able to manage feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness, you will be more effective in helping your loved one. There are several online support groups for family members: https://iocdf.org/search/family+support+group
Learning tools to support someone with anxiety allows you to focus on the one thing that is within your control – YOU. Reach out to a qualified provider today to begin learning how to take an active and supportive role in your loved one’s mental health.
If you are unsure of whether you or a loved one may benefit from therapy, contact Dr. Racine for a free consultation.