Living with an anxiety disorder can be lonely. Some people might isolate themselves in an effort to avoid situations that could trigger their anxiety. Others might feel generally uncomfortable being in social situations or uneasy around people who don’t understand what it is like to feel an unexpected, sudden wave of panic.
Therapy and medication can help reduce anxiety symptoms, but a support group can also play an important role in your recovery, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Within the safe confines of a support group, you can share ideas on how to cope with symptoms, how to talk to friends and relatives, or how to celebrate steps you have taken to overcome your anxious feelings. A support group gives you the opportunity to be with people who won’t judge you and who understand what it is like to live with an anxiety disorder. Support groups are based on empowerment.
What to expect
Support groups usually have anywhere from five to 15 people who share a common issue. You might find a support group specific to your type of anxiety, such as a group that deals with post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety disorder. Or you may choose to join a more general group that includes people living with any type of anxiety disorder.
Many support groups meet once a week for an hour. Meetings often have a theme, such as dealing with panic attacks or managing anxiety in the workplace. The meeting may start with an informational presentation on a specific skill for managing anxiety and then open for a discussion that includes time for asking questions and sharing experiences and ideas. Groups are frequently led by a licensed therapist, but some groups are started and facilitated by someone who has an anxiety disorder and wants to share what they have learned about living with anxiety.
The goal of joining a support group is to learn more about yourself, to gain tools to control anxiety symptoms, and to make connections with other people who are living with anxiety. Many people find that the network they develop through support groups helps them manage in their daily lives. Creating friendships with people who understand your experience allows you to lean on one another and help each other overcome stressful situations.
Some of the benefits of joining a support group include:
Creating connections and developing a support network
Feeling understood and accepted
Talking with people who can relate to your struggles
Developing new skills for managing anxiety
Gaining a greater understanding and acceptance of anxiety disorders
You might also find it inspiring to hear from other people who are working to manage their anxiety. It might give you the courage to do things that provoked your anxiety in the past. Some people find that by joining a support group, they are more satisfied with their lives. By improving their understanding of anxiety and learning new skills, they also improve the relationships in their lives.
Not everyone finds support groups beneficial, and some people might find they need more individual therapy before venturing into a group setting. Other drawbacks can include:
Finding it difficult to speak in front of other people
Finding some people in the group might be offended if you don’t want to take their advice
Having a hard time opening up about your feelings in front of others
Benefiting more from individual therapy
When you attend a support group, you have to learn to take other people’s ideas in stride. Every idea won’t work for you. It’s important to listen to what others say and filter out the parts that don’t apply to your situation.
Finding a support group
Support groups can be done in person or online. To find an in-person support group, start with your therapist. Some therapists offer group therapy as an adjunct to individual therapy. Check with your insurance company to see if any of the fees will be covered. If your therapist does not offer group support, they might know of a local support group.
When you find a group, plan on attending a few sessions before deciding whether the group is right for you. For example, some support groups might center discussions around symptom sharing, which might be helpful once or twice but won’t provide you with skills for managing anxiety, improving relationships, or relaxation techniques. If the group isn’t led by a therapist, ask about the leader’s experience with anxiety and leading groups. Talk to other people in the group to make sure it is a good fit.
There are also a number of online support groups. These are online communities that post messages, questions, and responses related to anxiety. With online groups, it can be more difficult to create lasting connections. Some communities may have hundreds of members, and you may find that each discussion hosts a different group of people. But many people find online support groups to be quite helpful. Although there haven’t been many studies specifically on internet support groups for anxiety, a 2012 study published in the journal PLOS One found people in internet support groups for depression had significant reductions in depressive symptoms at six and 12-month follow-ups.
An online support group can still offer you the ability to talk to others with your condition. Online support groups may also help you be more open about your symptoms with the people in your life and medical professionals.
The following are resources for finding a support group:
Your therapist or doctor
Your local hospital or health department
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers different support groups
Facebook has a number of groups for people living with anxiety
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.