Four Ways to Help Show Support to a Loved One with a Phobia

I would like to welcome the newest member of our writing team, Nic Alea. In their first post with us, they give valuable tips on how to support someone with a phobia or other anxiety disorder. Thanks for sharing with us, Nic!

Four Ways to Help Show Support to a Loved One with a Phobia:

1. Take it Seriously: One thing that has hurt me over the years is my consistent effort to try and tell people that I have Ichthyophobia (Fear of Fish) and people not taking it seriously. Well it’s serious. This phobia, although somewhat uncommon, can trigger me anywhere, whether it’s a picture on the internet or in a museum, a fish market, or walking into a shop with a fish tank, shit can be really scary sometimes. It’s already hard to tell people intimate things about ourselves and it’s even worse when people don’t believe it. So for #1: take your loved ones phobia seriously! Even if you aren’t afraid of crowds, or fish, or spiders, or wet hair, that doesn’t mean that the reaction is exaggerated by your loved one. Having a phobia requires careful navigation and if we have our friends and families on our side can help a lot!

2. Be On Top of It: Communicate with your loved one about their phobia with their consent. Sometimes even talking about the object/situation can raise anxiety in a person so remember to be gentle and compassionate. For me, communication looks like roommates shooting me a text if they’re going to cook anything in the seafood realm or my partner steering me clear of Christmas dinner to avoid the large dead fish in the center of the table. That said, being an advocate for your loved one (again, with consent) can be really helpful and take the load off the person with the phobia. It’s hard to have to constantly remind people to not send me cards with fish on them and it feels nice when someone else can step in for me. For #2: let your loved one know “I’m here to help navigate”. (This could potentially look like: checking in with a dinner party host about food, making sure a hotel room isn’t on a top level floor. These are obviously judgment calls that you and your loved one can work out together).

3. There Might Not Always Be a Reason: Well if nothing scary happened to you with fish then why are you scared? A question I’ve received a lot which makes me feel worse, I actually don’t really know why I melt into a panic when I see/smell fish, it just happens. Well, maybe I have a sneaking suspicion but the origin can also be really hard to talk about too. (I mean if someone develops a phobia because of a situation, obviously that situation was traumatic). If a loved one opens up to you about a phobia, just listen instead of trying to pry into what originated the trigger. Sometimes it’s from violence, abuse, or other types of trauma and sometimes the there just isn’t a reason and that in itself is so hard to explain. #3: Steer away from judgments and understand that this is your loved one’s reality regardless of reason.

4. Affirmations: “Hey, that was really brave of you for going to the movies with me, I know dark spaces can be difficult for you.” “Thanks for communicating with me about that fear, let me know how I can help.” Affirming is really important in the mental health realm, it helps us feel seen and heard. I know that for me, when others recognize that I was able to walk by the fish section at the super market, it makes me feel valid. #4: show support through affirmations! Even if your loved one can’t make it out of the house or is having a panic attack, affirmations can be really useful to help calm and remind us that we’re not crazy and we’re safe.

Note: I wrote this off the top of my head after my roommate sent me a “fish check in” text and I felt really heard and respected. I wrote this as a general guide based off what makes me feel better in regards to my phobia, but I’m not saying that all of these points may work for everyone! Anyone with a phobia has their own way of navigating and this is what works for me. Also, I do not consider myself having PTSD but I do know that some of the symptoms I find around fish look like symptoms of PTSD, with that said, if you have a loved one with PTSD, some of these might also apply.

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