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Traditionally, support groups are held in person in a neutral setting, such as a community center or hospital. The group may be led by a mental health professional or can be peer-led, meaning that the group is directed by someone who is also affected by an anxiety disorder. Nowadays, not everyone has the time or inclination to participate in a face-to-face group. You may not be ready to discuss your problems in public. In that case, you might consider joining an online or telephone support group. These groups provide many of the same benefits as traditional support groups.
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What Happens in a Support Group?
Online anxiety disorders support groups generally work on a message board basis, although some groups may offer the option of participating via Skype or instant messaging. Telephone support groups are arranged based on a mutually convenient time for members and are essentially like a face-to-face group over the phone. Both of these options may be convenient for people with mobility problems or who live in an area where face-to-face groups aren't offered.
In face-to-face sessions, the leader of the group will introduce him or herself and ask the participants to introduce themselves as well. If you don't feel like participating, there's no pressure to do so. You can share as much information about you and your condition as you are comfortable with.
In the beginning, some people prefer to listen, to get a feel for the group and to "test the waters." Others may feel an enormous sense of release by being among people who are suffering from similar issues and immediately begin discussing their problems. There's no right or wrong way to participate. Joining an anxiety disorders support group should not increase your level of anxiety, although you may feel a bit nervous when faced with your first meeting. Remember that there is no pressure to disclose anything you don't want to and that you're in safe environment. If you feel uncomfortable, you may wish to discuss your concerns with the group leader after the meeting has adjourned.
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Benefits of Support Groups
Anxiety disorders support groups provide a safe, confidential way of getting help and encouragement from others in a similar situation. People who suffer from anxiety disorders are often socially isolated. They feel ashamed of their condition and withdraw from contact with others. Joining an anxiety disorders support group can help alleviate feelings of isolation and disconnectedness by putting you in contact with people who are suffering from similar symptoms and dealing with related issues, such as work and family concerns, relationship difficulties or health problems. You can share your experiences, talk about fears or concerns, hear about what others are going through/have been through and get advice from others in a nonjudgmental setting. This can help normalize your feelings and empower you to take control of your problems.