Step 1 is one of the hardest steps for those with anxiety. Step 1 is one someone realizes they have a problem and asks for help. And for those who walk alongside the lost, this is when you find out that your friend or sister or brother or parent or child or whoever is struggling with anxiety, or really any mental illness for that matter. Step 1 is hard for them, because it requires a lot of vulnerability, honesty, and trust. If they are talking to you, it means they have a lot of trust in you, and if you stop listening, it might just be the thing that crushes them.
Step 1 is also hard for you, because it goes a lot better if you can relate, or at least understand. As a human, you have probably had at least one panic attack in your life. You might have frozen up during a test and couldn’t think. You might have gotten so nervous during a speech that you felt like the walls were closing in on you. But maybe you can’t remember one. And that is ok. You can still help. You have most likely been afraid of something several times in your life. Now imagine all the fear you have had throughout your life pushed into a 20-30 minute time period. Now imagine that those feelings continue 24/7 to a slightly lesser degree. That’s the basics of a panic attack, but it can be a bit more complex than that. It can involve other symptoms that vary from person to person. Listen so you know what your friend’s anxiety feels like to them.
Here are some important things to remember:
- Listen and just be there. This is the single most important thing to do, especially when you can’t relate and don’t really understand. Sit there and allow them to cry or talk or scream. Give them a hug or let them squeeze your hands or just sit there. At first, you have to let them lead, until you learn how to best help them. I’ll go into more detail with this in a later post.
- Be patient. They may have even been unintentionally dishonest with themselves for years. Even if they were aware that they were suppressing things, they probably did not realize how much they were hiding. Even if they were honest with themselves, telling you might be their first step toward healing.
- Fears that seem irrational to you seem completely logical to them, especially during a panic attack. A panic attack can be based off of seemingly the most ridiculous thing. Don’t laugh or tell them they are crazy. It’s serious to them.
The best way to help anyone with anxiety is to listen and be there. Your actions speak louder than words, so sit, listen, and just be a faithful presence. Jesus knows them and their anxiety better than you ever will, because He created them. He will you the strength to help them and them the strength to continue their fight.