There are a lot of online support groups for anxiety available to you right now. Any online search will bring up lots of options for you to choose from. But do they actually work? Are they worth your time and effort?
Benefits of Support Groups
Humans are social beings by nature. The pandemic really hurt a lot of us by isolating us and cutting us off from our support systems. One of the responses people have found to this is these online support groups which can help you with any number of different issues and concerns. These groups can provide companionship, community, support, and kinship which can be very helpful. But how else can online support groups be helpful for anxiety?
1. Increased access for everyone to mental health services, including people in remote areas.
2. Though sharing with others with similar problems, you can learn to accept what’s going on in yourself and know that you aren’t the only one feeling this way.
3. You will meet people who are further along in recovery and can therefore give you hope that things can get better for you. It’s one thing to hear this from a therapist, but it’s on an entirely different level to listen to it from someone who’s been where you are now.
4. You can learn new and helpful ways to cope with your anxiety.
5. You can gain increased self-awareness and insight into what’s going on in your psyche.
6. These types of support groups often are low or no cost.
7. Online support groups tend to have flexible participation so you can drop in when you need to, or switch to a different group if your needs aren’t met.
8. Asynchronous chat groups are available 24/7 and if the group is active enough, you might find live people on at all hours.
Limitations of Support Groups
As you might guess, there are also several limitations of online support groups. I've listed some of them below:
. Groups, especially online groups, have increased difficulty in maintaining confidentiality.
2. If the group isn’t run by a professional, you run the risk of being exposed to false information or to undue pressure from the group. A skilled group leader can mitigate these risks.
3. People tend to drop in and out of these groups so members will be in various places in their recovery. This also means that someone you have developed a relationship with may unexpectedly drop from sight.
4. Speaking in front of a group can be very difficult for people with anxiety and can trigger your fears.do via text.
5. If your group is text-based, there is an increased chance of miscommunication.
Communicating emotions and emotion-laden material can be very difficult to express and are easy to misinterpret.
Are Online Support Groups Effective?
There has been lots of research that shows how effective online counseling in general is. There hasn’t been as much research on online support groups, but there was one study that showed mixed results. It showed that online support groups alone are NOT sufficient to show any improvements in overall mental health. However, online support groups in addition to individual therapy with a skilled professional were shown to improve treatment results. So yes, these types of groups can be helpful.
These groups are not necessarily for everyone though. For example, they have been shown to be most effective in the areas of depression and anxiety. They are also often used with people with substance use problems and are a known adjust to therapy on these issues.
A word of caution! Please know that if you are feeling suicidal or are in crisis, a support group is not a good idea for you right now. These issues are too intense for the loose structure of a support group. You run the risk of being overlooked and possibly having your issues compounded rather than helped. Once you are feeling more stable emotionally, you can consider joining a support group, but for now, seek out therapy with a professional.
What to Look for in an Online Support Group
Looking online, you can find multiple support groups for pretty much every diagnosis or issue that you can think of. So how do you decide which one is going to help you? Well, first off, look for one that is led by an experienced, trained leader. This will minimize some of the potential limitations for you.
Another idea is to ask your therapist or MD for a recommendation. They know you best and may know of some groups in the area.
Once you have identified some possible support groups, you need to look for one that feels comfortable to you. One that you believe you will be able to open up in and share yourself and your issues with the other group members.
If you would like to talk more about anxiety treatment, please follow the link. I’d love to hear from you!