I get it. Anxiety is hard to understand, even when you have it. But there are some ways you can help a friend with anxiety.
You don’t know what to say or how to help.
Some people avoid talking about it completely. Others say way too much and try to fix it as simply as they could the settings on Grandpa’s new cell phone.
The reality is that anxiety isn’t something that can be “fixed,” but it’s not so complicated that you can’t help a friend out in five really influential ways.
Anxiety can be a root cause for a lot of other behaviors and conditions that may be easier to see from the outside. A lot of times the act of admitting that someone is clinically/chronically anxious takes much more courage than you would think. There are stigmas that come with having excessive anxiety in churches and faith-based communities. We need help from those who don’t have anxiety issues to help debunk them. If someone admits that they are having deep-rooted issues with feeling anxious, listen to them. If you suspect that a friend might be struggling with anxiety on an unhealthy level, ask them and LISTEN.
Like I said, anxiety is often hard to understand, even when you are experiencing it. So (believe it or not) asking questions can help you AND the person experiencing it. Ask what triggers the anxiety. Where they experience the anxiety physically. Or how quickly the anxiety comes on and how long it takes to go away. Ask anything and everything about how and why your friend experiences anxiety—and be patient when they don’t have the answers. Anxiety is twisted and not at all linear. Help shed light on your friend’s experience for BOTH of your understandings.
Anxiety is a bunch of lies, worst-case-scenarios, doubts, and insecurities. It consumes their mind and becomes much bigger than reality. Ask your friend to voice the anxieties and give names to the lies they are hearing, and then verbally speak against them. No matter how obvious the truth may be. No matter if they shrug off the lies and “know” they are stupid—verbally tell your friend the truth. Anxiety yells the lies of unworthiness, lack of value, weakness, inability, inadequacy, and failure. You can be the Light to your friend and shine it on the Truth that anxiety has blinded them to. Don’t tell them that they shouldn’t believe the lies—they already know that. They need to hear what IS true, and they need to hear it from you.
The battle against anxiety looks immensely different for everyone. The cause and experience of the anxiety is unique to each individual. Ultimately we ALL want the same thing—we don’t want a life controlled by anxiety, for ourselves or our friends. So if your friend with anxiety says that she is going to intense therapy and counseling, be excited for her. If your friend tells you that his therapist told him that he might need medication to fight anxiety for a period of time—listen to his concerns and his fears and help him come to his OWN decision about it. DO NOT give all of your opinions about the effectiveness or necessity of medication. If your friend needs to find healthy coping mechanisms to fight anxiety that may be a considerable lifestyle change (like more exercise, change in diet, different living situations, etc.), hold her accountable and ask her how it’s all going.
Be an ADVOCATE for your friend with anxiety. Trust that they don’t want to be anxious and want to fight it. Know that they need your encouragement more than your opinions or advice. Be a VOICE for your friend and speak up if you hear people judging anxiety and giving opinions on how to fix it. This is a deep, personal, and intimate battle that your friend gets to fight. Be HONORED that you were invited into it and help them fight it.
PRAY, PRAY, PRAY.
Mental illness in all of its various forms is a mystery in a lot of ways. Although I advocate for all the different ways to fight it, I do believe that mental health is directly tied to spiritual warfare. Mind you, I did NOT say spiritual maturity. I do believe that my almighty, all powerful Creator could heal me from anxiety and depression in an instant. I also believe that in many cases he doesn’t—for the sake of his kingdom and so that I will know him in a more intimate way. You can’t just tell your friend to “pray the anxiety away.” For heaven’s sake, please don’t quote Philippians 4:6-7 at your friend with anxiety and think that your job is over. That isn’t helpful. Pray for them, and pray WITH them.
Go to WAR for your friend and with your friend. Beg Jesus that His kingdom would be glorified through your friend’s testimony. Plead with God that his truth would yell louder than the lies that consume your friend’s mind. Kneel before the Lord and cry out for your friend’s hurt. Ask that Jesus would give you understanding, compassion, and strength to continue fighting for, not only your friend, but the entire Body. When one part of the Body is crippled with anxiety, the whole Body is. Don’t leave your friend to fight this battle on their own. Walk with them on the journey that Jesus wants them on.
Be patient, kind, and compassionate. Share your time and your heart, and be open-minded to the ways Jesus might call them to fight. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. If we fight this battle together, I know that we can slowly begin to kick anxiety’s ass.
Share this with a friend with anxiety. Who knows? They might need to hear it today!