How to Cope When a Family Member Has Social Anxiety Disorder

Take care of yourself when looking after someone with SAD.

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When a family member has social anxiety disorder (SAD), it can be a challenge to support that person while not neglecting your own needs. You can do many things to ensure that your own well-being is not compromised in the process of caring for your family member. First, it is important to understand the impact that the disorder may have on you as a family member.

Impact of SAD

If a family member has suffered a long time with SAD without a diagnosis, the disorder has probably put a strain on the family. You may have spent months or years not knowing what was wrong. Although a diagnosis is a positive step towards repairing strained family relations, recovery is still a long process and one that requires work on the part of everyone involved.

When someone in your family has SAD, there can be far-reaching effects on your own emotional well-being. If your spouse has SAD, you may feel resentful that they do not want to join you in typical social activities such as family gatherings or parties. If your child has SAD, you may feel guilty, blame yourself, or wonder what you may have done to cause him to develop the disorder.

Unfortunately, feelings of anger, resentment, and guilt make it hard for you to be supportive of your family member. It is normal to have these feelings, but it is also important to learn how to manage your emotions so that they don’t interfere with your ability to help.

In general, knowing your own personal limitations and taking actions to maintain your own physical and mental health will make it easier to manage negative emotions when they arise.

Taking Care of Yourself

In the course of looking after someone else, you may find that you neglect to take care of yourself. You may give up favorite activities or become isolated from friends and family. Over time, high levels of stress may take a toll on your well-being. Remember that recovery is a stressful time for you too, and it is important to look after yourself.

  • Keep up Outside Interests. Although it may be tempting to back out of social commitments during this stressful time, it is important not to sacrifice your own interests. Meet up with friends, join clubs or sporting groups, or volunteer for a cause that interests you. Having an active social life outside the family will help to recharge your energy and make you better able to help your family member. It will also provide you with a social support network during times of high stress.
  • Set Aside Feelings of Guilt. It is not your fault that your family member developed the disorder. SAD is the result of biological and psychological factors that are out of your control. Focus on the positive things that you can do to support your family member now.
  • Seek Family Counseling or a Support Group. If the negative impact of the disorder on your family has become too overwhelming, family counseling or a support group may be a good option. Both counseling and support groups will enable you to manage the impact of the disorder on family life and better understand what your family member is experiencing. Counseling and support groups are usually available through a community hospital, clinic, or mental health organization.

In general, taking the time to meet your own needs will give you more energy and patience to help your family member cope with SAD. If you start to feel overwhelmed, take one day at a time and focus on striking a balance between offering support and taking time for yourself.

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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."