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Tips for Supporting a Friend or Loved One With Panic Disorder and Agoragphobia

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Updated July 24, 2009

Are you supporting a friend or loved one with panic disorder or agoraphobia? If so, you may find these tips helpful.

1. Find out what you can about panic disorder and agoraphobia.

If you have never had recurring panic attacks, it may be hard to understand the difficulties your friend or loved one is going through. In order to be a good support person, it is important that you understand the many complexities of panic disorder and agoraphobia. The fear an agoraphobic experiences is not just nervousness or feeling a little anxious. It is part of a biological and psychological process that is far beyond these limits and is often life-changing.

2. Build trust to help recovery.

To be a good support person, the agoraphobic must be able to feel an alliance with you. He or she must trust that you will accommodate his or her limitations without judgment. If you’re out with your friend or loved one in his or her fearful world, he or she must know that you can, and will, provide the assistance he or she needs without question.

3. Don’t try to direct the agoraphobic’s recovery.

You may feel you are helping your friend or loved one overcome his or her fears with excessive prodding. But, this is, likely, to worsen feelings of anxiety, shame and embarrassment, leading to concealment of symptoms and hindering recovery.

4. Don’t assume manipulation.

It’s often hard to understand why an agoraphobic may be able to do something one day, but not the next. He or she may go to a restaurant several times, then start to avoid restaurants, followed by resuming this activity. Or, he or she may be able to drive to certain places some days, but not others. This is not manipulation. These behaviors are common because the basis of the fear is not actually the restaurant or other feared activity. The fear and avoidance come from the fear itself. In other words, your loved one actually fears the frightening symptoms of having a panic attack. These symptoms can vary from day to day, or even morning to night, because of biological, psychological and environmental influences.

5. Don’t view the agoraphobic as “weak”.

Living in a world of fear, day-in and day-out, is not an easy proposition. Every time an agoraphobic ventures past his or her safe zone, he or she is showing you monumental strength.
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