What can friends and family do to help?
This section is for friends and family who want to support someone who has a phobia.
Try not to be dismissive or laugh about your friend or family member’s phobia. You may not understand why they are so afraid of something, but the anxiety and fear they are feeling is very real. It can be very distressing if other people do not take these experiences seriously so try to be supportive and sympathetic.
Find out what helps
“I feel better if I have someone with me who knows about my anxiety and how to calm me down. It helps if I just focus on that person talking.”
Ask your friend or family member what you can do to help. For example, it might help to take them out of the situation, talk to them calmly or do breathing exercises with them. Often knowing that there is someone around who knows what to do if they start to feel frightened or panicked can help them feel safer and calmer.
“I never go into situations that affect me without one of a small handful of people I trust completely who can deal with my panic attacks and the fallout. They get me to sit down and do my breathing exercises and, once the panic attack is over, immediately get me home to a ‘safe’ environment where I can recover and sleep.”
Do not apply pressure
While avoiding a situation can make a phobia worse over time, it can be extremely distressing if someone is forced to face situations when they are not ready. Do not put pressure on them to do more than they feel comfortable with, or force them to face their phobia.
“For years, I’ve had social anxiety problems and my family were, for the most part, not helpful – forcing me into uncomfortable situations and making me feel like there was something wrong with me.”
If your friend or family member’s phobia is becoming a problem for them, encourage them to seek appropriate treatment by talking to your family doctor or a therapist.