The last blog post was about explaining anxiety to friends but explaining it to family can be a completely separate issue. Although you’d think that your family should be understanding, very often they aren’t. They think they know what is best for you which may end up coming across a dictatorship. So the question is “how do I explain my anxiety to my family?”.
I want to be clear that often, family members may know what is best for you, but if they don’t fully understand what you’re feeling or what is difficult, then they don’t have the full picture. It’s difficult to offer good advice to someone if you don’t fully understand the situation.
The best way to start is to describing how it affects you. Describe all the different sensations you feel, thoughts you may think, worries you face… Let them get an insight into how difficult it is for you when the anxiety sets in. By talking about how it physically affects you, they can understand what to look for and they may be able to empathise a bit more. If they can understand exactly what your worries are, they may be able to gain insight into your triggers and maybe even help find solutions.
Personally, I find a metaphor quite useful in describing how anxiety feels. It gives your family members something that they can compare it to. Here’s one example:
“Imagine there is a fire and you are in it. You know that the fire won’t last forever but that doesn’t stop it burning now. In fact, one minute will feel like an eternity. That’s what an anxiety attack feels like. You will choose to get out of the fire that is burning you. Just because someone tells you to stay in it and deal with the feeling, doesn’t make it any easier.”
It sounds incredibly dramatic, and it is. Drama can help you get your point across in a solid way. Using a metaphor like that can give it a real perspective that they haven’t thought of. It can make the point clear and help them take a moment to think how they would feel in that physical situation rather than expecting you to just “get over it”.
It’s important to stand your ground. Going back to the notion that family members often feel they know what is best for you, they may try to push you to overcome it. Nine times out of ten though, pushing doesn’t work with anxiety, it only makes things worse. If you feel that you can’t deal with a certain situation, communicate that. If they try to push you, stand your ground. It can be really tough and cause an unpleasant scene but it should help in the long run. Take you time when trying to overcome situations and don’t do it because you feel like you have to.
When I first started experiencing mild anxiety attacks, I would keep going back to school and pushing myself because I had to. You can’t just leave school right? You have to attend lessons, exams, assembly etc. The thing is, the more I pushed myself, the worse it got to the point I literally couldn’t go to school anymore. Don’t get me wrong, you will need to face certain challenging situations, but that doesn’t mean that you should push yourself too far.
The good thing about talking openly to your family is that they can help you on your journey to recovery. Once they understand the struggles you are facing, you can ask them for help. They can go with you to the GP or attend counselling with you. They can also accompany you to challenging situations so you can practice facing them in a safe way.
If I didn’t speak to my mum about the issues I was facing, I never would have gone to see my GP. I didn’t know it was anxiety but once I had an official diagnosis, it got the ball rolling. My GP referred me to a psychologist and he helped me understand a lot. As my Mum was with me throughout, she also developed her understanding of anxiety meaning that she was better equipped to help me. As my Dad didn’t attend those sessions, anxiety was much harder for him to understand and for a long time, he assumed I was making excuses or that I would have no future because there was a long list of things I couldn’t do.
Some family members will be really supportive and others not so much. It is important that you have a strong support network in your life when going through difficulties and the only real way to do that is by talking through the issues. Be patient and understand that other people may not get it straight away but they will with time.
With the right tools and the right people, you will be able to overcome anxiety and lead a happy life that is not hindered by mental health. That doesn’t mean you can cure anxiety but you can definitely overcome the challenges it poses.