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Phobia - Caring for someone with anxiety

NHS ChoicesFeature

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Caring for someone who has an anxiety disorder can be a huge commitment and can affect all aspects of your everyday life.

Many people who care for someone with  anxiety don't view their duties as 'caring', but rather as their responsibility or just a part of their life.

They may not be recognised as carers by social services, which means they miss out on potentially vital support.

As a carer, it's crucial that you get support with your caring role, for your own wellbeing and that of the person you care for.

Go to Carers Direct to find out more about the support and benefits you may be entitled to or call the Carers Direct helpline on 0808 802 0202.

Read as much as you can about the anxiety disorder that the person you care for has. This means you can empathise with them and it helps you to understand that their anxiety isn't something they can quickly overcome or snap out of.

Among the most complex anxieties are agoraphobia (fear of losing control and being away from a safe place) and social phobia (fear of being negatively evaluated by others).

"These conditions can place big restrictions on daily life," says Catherine O'Neill of Anxiety UK.

People with these disorders often develop monophobia (fear of being left alone), which can be difficult for the carer, especially if they're working.

Supportive attitude

You'll often need to help the person you care for deal with anxiety-provoking situations, offer encouragement and help them confront their anxiety step-by-step.

Here are some tips:

  • Be predictable and reliable. If you say that you'll be somewhere at a certain time, make sure that you are.
  • Let the person you care for set the pace of their recovery. Don't push them to do too much too soon, but encourage them to keep moving forwards.
  • Try to get the person you care for to remain positive throughout the recovery process. Encourage and praise them, and don't focus on the things they can't do.

"Remember that as a carer you're not responsible for the recovery of the person that you care for," says O'Neill.

"You can help and support them, but they have to do most of the work themselves."

She says that relapses are normal. People with anxiety often take two steps forward in their progress and one step back. Don't blame yourself or the person.

There are many options available to help you support someone who has an anxiety disorder. As their carer, you may feel able to encourage them to get treatment.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often recommended for anxiety disorders. CBT gives people ways to change their negative thoughts and behaviour to bring about a more positive way of thinking. You can find more information about  cognitive behavioural therapy in Health A-Z.

"The best way of supporting someone through therapy is to be available for them to talk to after their therapy sessions and to support them with the tasks their therapist sets," says O'Neill.

Look after yourself

As a carer, it's normal to feel emotions such as impatience, exhaustion and embarrassment.

"If you're experiencing these feelings, it's important to get the help and support that you need to fulfil your role," says Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK.

"It's really important that carers look after themselves. They can't do a good job caring if they don't. The more support that you receive, the more effective you will be at supporting others."

You can look after yourself by getting enough sleep, doing regular exercise, eating healthily and having regular breaks from caring. Anxiety UK, Crossroads and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers provide support services for carers.

"Ensure that you are in the best possible health physically and mentally if you are supporting someone else," says Lidbetter. "Putting yourself first means that you are able to help others more effectively."

Assessment for carers

If you regularly provide a substantial amount of care, ask your local social services department for a carer's assessment.

The assessment is an opportunity to discuss the help you give the person you care for, the help they need and the services that you need to ensure you're supported as a carer.

You're entitled to this assessment even if the person that you care for refuses to have a community care assessment.

Before your assessment, think carefully about what kind of support you both need. You can find advice on carers' assessments in Carers Direct or at your local Carers Centre.

The benefits system is complex. Get specialist advice about what you're entitled to and how to fill in any claim forms. Carers Direct, anxiety charities and carers' organisations can help.

"There is an issue with anxiety carers not getting the support they may be entitled to from social services," says Lidbetter.

"Also, many carers of people with an anxiety disorder don't see themselves as carers and therefore don't think about getting outside support.

"We would like the carer's assessment to be offered routinely to anxiety carers and more information about the availability of support to be provided."

Medical Review: July 31, 2010

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