How to Help Someone with Anxiety

Ferdie Peralta

July 29, 2019

Anxiety is one of the major issues that plague the world today. On social media, we read posts, stories, and news about students getting overwhelmed by anxiety brought about by schoolwork and family problems, among other things.

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically caused by fear and uncertainty of the future. Among students, anxiety is often caused by stressful life events such as transitioning to a new school, conflict between their parents, financial problems, or the death of a family member.

Physical health problems can also result in anxiety. To some, anxiety can be caused by emotional trauma such as abuse, bullying, insecurity, and overwhelming pressure in school. To others, anxiety may also be a result of their family’s mental health history.

Sadly, the proliferation of social networking has contributed to a misconception of anxiety in today’s generation. As people romanticize anxiety and depression, many people tend to self-diagnose and identify themselves as depressed or anxious. While some may actually be experiencing real anxiety, there may also be those who are just experiencing typical sadness or stress, which can be easily addressed and resolved. But how will I know if a person’s anxiety is real?

There’s a long list of symptoms that are associated with anxiety. Be careful, however, not to quickly jump to conclusions if you’re experiencing isolated cases of one or several of these symptoms. If these physical and emotional symptoms are brought about by the reasons we’ve stated earlier, then I recommend that you seek professional help.

Here are the usual symptoms:

  • Feelings of restlessness, unease, always on the edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Experiencing sudden mental block
  • Having difficulty in focusing or concentrating
  • Constant irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks

The Bible encourages us not to be anxious about anything, but to present our requests or concerns to God (Philippians 4:6). Whenever we experience fear or anxiety, let us hold on to the truth that God’s presence is with us and He promised that His peace that transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds.

But whenever we encounter people who are experiencing anxiety, we are unsure of how we can encourage them. We end up asking, how do we help them go through it? Here are some ways you can help your friends and classmates who may be experiencing anxiety.

1. Listen without judgment

The saying goes, “We have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we speak.” And the Bible encourages us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). When people with anxiety come to us, they do so not because they expect us to solve their problems, but so they could be listened to. They might have already heard so much negative words from themselves or from others, but what they need is someone who will listen to what’s going on in their minds and who will empathize with how they feel.

A good listener is warm, genuine, and empathic. Warmth is characterized by unconditional acceptance without judgment or prejudice. Being genuine means having integrity and being true to oneself and to others without pretense. Empathy is understanding and knowing how people feel and think. People know they’re listened to when we exhibit these qualities.

Here are some practical tips for listening without judgment.

  • Practice active listening. Les Parrott says that the two main ingredients of active listening are reflection and clarification. Reflecting would mean understanding the thoughts and emotions behind what is being said. In the same way, we need to clarify whether we have accurately understood what was said.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Do not interrupt or offer solutions.
  • Be mindful of subtle hints and non-verbal cues to understand the person’s emotions.
  • If you want to clarify something, wait until the person pauses before asking questions.
  • Empathize. See the situation from the person’s point of view. Remember that people’s experiences and journeys are different.
  • Ask questions for clarity and understanding.
  • Repeat what was said. You may repeat or paraphrase what the person shared. This establishes clarity and assures the other person that you heard what he or she was saying.
  • Be sensitive with your words and actions.
  • Be objective.

2. Empower

After knowing and understanding where the person is coming from, the next goal is to empower that person to make actionable steps and sound decisions to help him or her overcome anxiety.

First, you need to help the person identify his or her coping mechanism.

Every person has different ways to cope with problems and stress. If the person’s coping mechanisms are unhealthy and self-destructive, you may introduce healthy ways to cope such as getting enough sleep, working out, observing proper diet and exercise, listening to relaxing music, and praying and meditating. If the person is into too much coffee, you may advise the person to regulate caffeine intake as it could cause restlessness or unease.

Secondly, give the person some practical techniques and strategies to manage anxiety.

Some methods include breathing techniques, positive self-talk, meditation, and relaxation.

Third, encourage the person to build or strengthen his or her support system.

Our immediate support system is our family. In some cases where family is absent, the company of good friends is a huge help. The best place to find good friends is the church. You may connect your friends or classmates to a church community where they can experience life-giving friendships.

Ultimately, nothing beats having a strong, dynamic relationship with God.

Anxiety may be real in this broken world, but Jesus tells us to take heart, for He has overcome the world (John 16:33). If the person is yet to have a relationship with Jesus, you may lead your friend to know and receive Jesus in his or her life.

This is Jesus’ invitation for us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, NIV)

If you’re feeling anxious about anything today, remember that you don’t need to carry it alone. You can come to God, and you will find rest not just for your body but for your soul.

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The Author

Ferdie Peralta

Ferdie Peralta is one of our pastors in Victory U-Belt. He holds a degree in counseling from the Asian Theological Seminary.

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