Studies have shown that those with anxiety benefit from social support. Social support is the feeling that others are there that empathize with your pain and care about your wellbeing. Many people get social support from friends and family, but because not all friends and family understand what anxiety is like, they may not be able to provide the support you need.
That's why anxiety support groups are often recommended. Support groups are for those suffering from anxiety - those like you - that are looking to others to share their experiences and understanding. There are two types of support groups - those that take place offline, and those that take place online. Below, we'll explore the value of these support groups and tips for using them effectively.
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Support Groups for Anxiety
Anxiety support groups may be directly related to a specific anxiety disorder, or it may be a general support group for all types of anxiety. It's always a good idea to make sure you understand your anxiety thoroughly before joining any support group and start taking steps to treat it so that a support group can be a complement to treatment, not a replacement. Make sure you've taken my anxiety test before reading onward.
Support groups have a variety of benefits. These benefits somewhat change based on whether or not you're using an online support group or an offline support group.
Offline Anxiety Support Groups
Offline, or traditional support groups, gather at a meeting place, like a school or church, and discuss various issues related to living with and overcoming anxiety. It's a place for you to share what you're experiencing, listen to the experiences of others, and possibly share what you've learned in a place where you won't feel judged.
There are several benefits to this type of support group:
- Meeting in person gives you the opportunity to actually meet with someone and see them directly. You can talk to them about specific questions, engage in discussions, and see the way they want to help you in their eyes.
- Offline support groups are well organized and attended by those that truly want to have their anxiety reduced. Often you can get to know the same people, track their progress, and support each other in ways that are difficult to find in your personal life.
- In some cases, psychologists may also run these types of support groups, so you can have real insight into how to reduce anxiety. But even when someone isn't learned in psychology, there are often tips and tools that can be practiced and shown to provide a real cure.
In person support groups also keep you accountable for yourself. Accountability is an important part of reducing anxiety with any type of mental health issue, because without accountability, anxiety itself may cause you to avoid going to these support groups and ultimately hurt your ability to heal.
That said, in-person support groups also have their weaknesses. You're limited to what's available in your area and you need to utilize the support group during the hours that the group is active. They may not be available during times of intense anxiety, and it's harder to find others that are experiencing closer to your types of symptoms (since all anxiety is different). Also, some people find that they have a hard time sharing with others - especially if you have social anxiety.
Online Support Groups
Online support groups are the alternative. Most online support groups are active anxiety forums, but they serve essentially the same purpose. They are used by those that need people to talk to and people to provide them with reassurance. Every forum is different, but the largest forums have thousands upon thousands of members that are online every day to discuss anxiety.
Where to Find Anxiety and Panic Attack Support Groups
Every city is different, unfortunately, and there aren't any national organizations that try to gather them in any specific city. You can try MeetUp.com, which is a popular website for creating groups of like-minded individuals. You can also search local newspapers, and contact psychologist that specializes in panic disorder to see if they either run them themselves or know of any in the area.
Don't be afraid to start a support group yourself either. Starting a group on Meetup.com is free, and you'll often find many people that could use your support. You can also talk to a psychologist about them starting one, and seeing if they have any interest in putting something together.
Benefits of Online Support Groups
The greatest benefit to online support groups is that they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, everywhere in the world. Any time you're suffering from anxiety you can log in, share your story or problem, and let others stop by to help you through it. You can ask for tips and tricks, reviews of available at home treatments, and more.
Online support groups often come with additional helpful information, and these forums are usually equipped with many others that have experienced your same symptoms. That is extremely valuable, especially for those whose anxiety has caused them "unusual" symptoms that create their own fear. Online support groups also provide the value of anonymity, which is great for those that worry they may be too shy for an actual support group.
Weaknesses of Online Support Groups
Online support groups also come with their own weaknesses, however, and for many, these weaknesses may actually fuel greater anxiety. Some examples of these weaknesses include:
- Anonymity Dangers Anonymity may be helpful, but it also has its downsides. It allows anyone to say anything they want without worrying about how that will affect them, and that means that people can say mean things or give harsh advice when it may not be warranted. For many, that can create greater anxiety.
- Validation Another problem is that not everyone looks at these support groups the right way. Far too many people end up using them to validate their fears, trying to get others to agree that they may be suffering from a serious disease, or that their anxiety is helpless. This is actually very natural, and possibly very damaging. Most people want to hear the way they feel, and use these forums for that very purpose.
- Online Also, there are dangers in general to always finding yourself online when you need help. That's because Googling your symptoms is too easy, and computers themselves can excite the brain and cause further anxiety. It's often too tempting for these forums to be something you do, but not something you try to benefit from because you have the rest of the internet to validate your fears or keep you company.
- Impersonal There is real value to getting to know other people and seeing people in person. You can connect with them in a way that isn't possible online. You can make friends online, but the connections often don't feel the same, and for some people (especially those whose anxiety causes them to struggle with other people around) it's important to get out of the house and around those that understand you.
- No Accountability/Checkups Online, there's no accountability and no way to guarantee that you'll even get a response, or that your responses will come at a time that is helpful to the other person. Online, people tend to care more about their own needs first. There's no way to guarantee that someone is there to give you the help you need, that they'll know what they're talking about, or that they'll make sure you understand it.
Online support groups are still valuable, but it's important to keep these in mind when you decide to use them. While the online world has made getting support and help much easier, it's far from perfect for the reasons outlined above.
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How to Get the Most From a Support Group
Moving forward, however, one of the issues at play is how to get the most from a support group when you decide to enroll in one. Joining a panic disorder support group is great, but unfortunately, many people use it for the wrong reasons or don't participate in a way that will help them heal.
Consider the following tips to ensure that you find a support group beneficial and that you also help make it better for others:
Don't Use It to Justify Fears
Panic attacks cause a number of health worries. In fact, one might say that health anxiety is one of the most common symptoms because panic attacks tend to mimic various health disorders. Far too many people use support groups as a way to verify that their fears are real. They pick the strangest symptom they can think of and subconsciously hope that the person will tell them they have no idea what it is.
It's a strange symptom of panic, but it's a very real one. You have to fight the urge to use these support groups as a way to justify your fears. You need to focus on treatment - understand that you have panic disorder, and look for ways to help yourself cure/fight your anxiety rather than do things to contribute to it.
Support groups require a community. Ideally, you'll have an expert acting as the leader, but in some cases that may not be possible. No matter what, the environment has to feel supportive, and that means you cannot just be there for yourself.
When you learn something or when you have your own thoughts, make sure that you're helping others. Give your advice, listen to what they are experiencing, and do your best to really let the person know that you're there for them if they need you. It helps make support groups better, but perhaps more than that, it encourages them to support you and also ensures that you're always thinking about recovery.
Partner It With a Plan
You should also make sure that you're never "just" doing a support group. You need to also make sure that you're working to reduce your anxiety and stop your panic attacks forever. After all, the more you work on your own anxiety the more you'll be able to help others.
Make sure that you are committed to some type of plan - whether it's therapy, medicine, at home plans, or some type of non-traditional support. You need to make sure that you're working on your anxiety every day in order to give yourself the best opportunity to both benefit from a support group and find the support group meaningful.
I've helped many people cure their anxiety at home. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test will examine your symptoms and provide you with a complete anxiety profile along with valuable comparison charts.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Mar 27, 2018.