Helping Friends Who Have Crippling Anxiety

When you struggle with anxiety, simple daily decisions and activities can send you into a spiral of panic, and when you have to make a decision, it seems impossible.

You fear the repercussions of your decision—making the wrong choice and having to live with the potential consequences. You freeze up, and your brain instantly becomes incapable of choosing one thing over the other.

Panic rises, and your thoughts race in a hundred different directions. Fear grips you so tightly that you begin to sweat and seriously consider if you could duck out quickly. But no! You’re stuck. It’s your turn to decide where the group will eat lunch today! You wish with all your heart that someone, anyone else, would make the decision.

How could you ever get to this place where something this important is put on you? How can you ever decide without feeling like a complete idiot when the decision is made? What if someone doesn’t agree with it? What if you find some (insignificant) reason in just a few moments to make you regret it? What if the restaurant is closed and you all walked two blocks for nothing—and it’s your fault? What if you’ve forgotten a food sensitivity in the group and someone can’t eat at the restaurant you pick? What if . . .

Finally, Jenny saves you and decides. Today you all will have Mexican.

Phew! You just got through what felt like one of the most trying moments of your week—and maybe your life! Now if everyone gets food poisoning or they’re out of guac, you won’t be responsible! You begin to thank God for Jenny stepping in and deciding for the group.

You’re so thankful you opened up to her last month about your severe anxiety. You shared how it often stops you from putting yourself into social situations because the multiple ways you could panic are too overwhelming. And Jenny, being the caring person you’ve come to respect, responded by encouraging you. She let you know that many people in your weekly lunch group love your company and what you add to the conversation.

She’s so thankful that she’s gotten to see and hear what God is doing in your life, and she would hate to see you lose out on life-giving community because you get anxious easily. She also offered to step in anytime you feel anxious in the group and try to relieve some of it. You two talked for nearly an hour about what triggers an anxious episode and ways she may be able to step in to alleviate some pressure when she’s around. Thank God for Jenny and her caring nature.

Now, to some, the above paragraphs may seem a little silly and exaggerated. And honestly, I may have gone a little over the top with that example, but for a person who struggles with anxiety, something as simple as choosing a lunch destination can be crippling. Though this example is dramatized, it’s very similar to strings of thought and panic I have had. I’ve struggled with both anxiety and depression for years, and at many times, it caused me to pull back from friends I loved—and many times, they let me go and our friendship fizzled into nothing. It’s a sad reality, but true.

How Can I Help?

If you have never experienced anxiety or have only dealt with it in a minor way, you may have difficulty bearing with your friends who struggle with it continually. You may wonder why they can’t just brush it off, why they let it control their lives, and why they can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with their life. But the problem is that when a person is dealing with anxiety or depression, often the brain isn’t working correctly. And when the brain controls the body and the brain isn’t working, it feels like the body (and life) just can’t work either.

Maybe you’re wondering, But how can I be caring like Jenny and help my anxious friend? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I have a few tips from ways that friends have helped me and ways I’d wished friends would have helped me. These are by no means exhaustive and should not be considered a prescription for fixing your friend. Each person and situation is different, and what helped me may not help someone else. But this list can give you a starting point to talk to your friend about helping her through a rough time.

6 Ways to Help a Friend with Anxiety

1. Have your spiritual life on track.

Yep, you read that right. It starts with you and where you are. If you aren’t right with God, you can’t adequately help someone who is suffering. I’m not saying you need to be a spiritual giant or a “perfect” Christian. We all know those don’t actually exist. But if you have sin you’re trying to hide from God and others, or sin you’re holding onto because you’re “just not done sinning yet,” then you need to get that set straight.

I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! (Ps. 66:17–20).

God won’t fully work through us if we’re running and hiding from Him. Focus on being regularly in the Word, praying, and seeking God before and while you seek to help. You need to rely on Him to be able to strengthen others.

2. Pray, pray, pray!

You should be praying for this friend on your own, begging God for her healing and for His guidance in supporting and loving her. Then pray with her when you get together. You don’t have to make eloquently worded, stately prayers, worthy of being immortalized in some way. Simply ask for God’s help and guidance in your friend’s life. Not only are you reaching out to the God who is the hearer of prayers (1 John 5:15), you are also bringing your friend to God, showing her that you care and He cares.

Often someone struggling with anxiety—or any mental disorder—can feel completely unable to come to God in low moments. By praying with and for her, you carry her to the cross so that she can see Jesus, His sacrifice, and His love more clearly. You could also invite her to pray with you, even just speaking one word to God. This doesn’t mean that you urge, push, poke, and prod her until she finally and weakly submits to praying. Rather it’s giving an invitation to talk to her Savior, with you, her friend, right there holding her hand (metaphorically or physically). If she doesn’t want to, maybe ask why and lovingly explore the reasons she doesn’t want to talk to God right then. (Maybe she’s just shy, and her mind started anxiously racing when you asked her to pray.)

3. Encourage and compliment.

I read something interesting in a little book called Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray. He said, “We should feel free to encourage depressed people to have a more realistic view of themselves by highlighting their God-given gifts, their contributions to the lives of others, their usefulness in society, and, if they are Christians, their value to the church.”

I know he’s talking about depression, but anxiety and depression often go hand in hand and much good advice about one can be used for the other. So, freely compliment your friend. Don’t overlook her sin or ignore glaring issues, but remember, she could probably use some friendly encouragement.

4. Affirm who she is in Christ and the community.

This one piggybacks on the last point. An anxious person is often insecure and unsure about who they are to you and to others. Point her to Christ. If she’s a believer, remind her that she is a child of God, and despite the way she is feeling, He loves her and will never leave her (Rom. 8:38–39). Also remind her (or maybe let her know for the first time) how and why she is valued in the community. Your friend’s anxiety may involve always being afraid that she’s failing someone or going to look stupid. A reminder that she is treasured by those she cares for could be helpful and encouraging.

5. Ease decision-making.

As my earlier example illustrated, decisions can be extremely difficult to make when you have crippling anxiety. So, if you’re getting together with a friend whose anxiety can keep her from making decisions, even ones that would seem minimal to you, step in and help make one. Maybe, like Jenny in the illustration, it means seeing her panic and choosing to help in a group. Or if making plans about where you and she will get together, you could offer up a suggestion (Hey, what about Starbucks?) instead of asking her an open-ended question (Where do you want to get together?). This small switch could keep her from feeling like a helpless child who needs her hand held, while providing a perfectly viable option that, hopefully, you two both enjoy.

6. Encourage her to seek counseling.

I am a huge advocate of counseling. It took me many, many years to finally call a counselor and set up an appointment. But I cannot tell you how useful the small amount of counseling I’ve been blessed with has been in my life. Seeing a good Christian counselor provides a way for someone struggling with anxiety to get some of their feelings out and into words with someone they can have little fear of offending. If the counselor is outside their social circle, then she won’t know any of the people mentioned or be involved in any of the situations. The counselor can give a mostly unbiased view and help your friend deal with what’s going on inside.

Anxiety is knocking out a large group of Christian women where they stand, and Satan uses this to his advantage. When our anxiety kicks into high gear, he does not hesitate to try to convince us to “just stay home, it’ll be easier,” or that “you don’t really need those friendships.” But these are lies from the father of lies. We must start fighting back, and sometimes we do that by helping our anxious friend see the Truth from the lies—through our actions.

From our team: We’re so grateful Sarah was willing to share her story—and these helpful pointers for ministering to those with anxiety. Our “little sister” blog, Lies Young Women Believe, also has an excellent series for those of us who are on the opposite end . . . personally wrestling with anxiety. Click the links below to read and be encouraged! (Or pass them along to your anxious friend, with a note of love and care from you.)

And if the True Woman and Lies Young Women Believe blogs have helped you in your walk with Christ, would you consider joining our Monthly Partner Team? Revive Partners are folks who pledge to give $30 or more monthly to the ministry (and blogs!) of Revive Our Hearts

About the Author

Sarah Holdren

Sarah Holdren

Sarah Holdren resides in West Virginia, where she nannies for a wonderful family with two kids. When she's not chasing after little ones, she enjoys a good cup of tea, reading, time spent with good friends, and getting outdoors with … read more …

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