How to love someone with anxiety
A devotional by Jessica Brodie
Mental illness runs in my family, and several close relatives, including my daughter, have major struggles with anxiety.
I spent a lot of my life believing I had a personal responsibility to fix what was wrong in the world. That meant not only being an advocate and speaking up for those who are marginalized and oppressed in general, but also doing what I can to help those I love who struggle with anxiety, whether through advocacy, awareness or caregiving.
However, I am just one human being, and I have learned over the years that I am only able to do anything for others through the Lord Jesus Christ. What that means is “Jessica can’t fix anything nearly as well as God can.” In fact, the only thing I can really try to fix is myself—and even for that I need a savior! Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, not me!
But as a mom particularly, I still wrestle with that balance. It’s really important to me that my daughter feels loved and supported in the midst of her personal struggles with mental illness. Some days are far more difficult than others. They include panic attacks, or an inability to sleep because her mind-racing fears keep her awake far past her bedtime (and mine). Other days are far easier.
Our journey has taught me a few things I can do to love her well, and all these things are rooted in Scripture.
Here, then, are five key ways I’ve learned I can love someone with anxiety.
1) Listen well
James 1:19 (ESV) says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
There’s a saying I appreciate: God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Being a good listener is really important, especially when it comes to loving someone with anxiety. Sometimes it helps when my daughter, or others I love with anxiety, just have an ear. They can freely express all the issues spinning around in their brains. A really good thing I can do for them is hear them. Listen. Nod. Understand. It goes long way.
The apostle John tells us in 1 John 3:18, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
This has a lot in common with listening, but it goes deeper. Acknowledging is more than just hearing someone, but rather accepting the full weight of what someone is saying or feeling, admitting its existence and importance to them. Anxiety and other mental illness are often considered “invisible illness,” so the world often dismisses it as “only in their head.” But like cancer, fibromyalgia and other ailments, it’s real. And there are often physical effects along with the mental. Acknowledging can help buffer that stigma and help your loved one recognize what’s happening and how to get through.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”
A lot of times, people with anxiety feel very much alone, as though no one else can understand what they are going through. I might not be able to understand what a panic attack feels like or how to rein in the overwhelming sense of doom and dread my daughter experiences with anxiety, but I can walk with her. I can help her know she’s not alone. I can also do other things: help her cling to God in the midst of her pain, take her to therapy, give her access to medication if needed, and be a stable presence in the storm.
4) Understand I can’t fix it
God tells us through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 43:11, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.”
I can help my loved one with resources, get them the therapy and medication they need, and do all the other things mentioned above, but this is their journey, their struggle, their proverbial “cross to bear,” not mine. They must get through whatever that looks like. It’s not my job to fix the problem, nor is it possible, and I need to know that. They also need to know that; only Jesus is their savior.
5) Don’t take it personally
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Sometimes my daughter will lash out at me, as though I caused her anxiety. At times like these, it helps to remind myself she’s scared or upset at the problem, not me. Loving someone goes way beyond mere emotion. My love for her doesn’t depend on whether she’s nice or snippy or well-behaved or not. It doesn’t mean she can walk all over me—I have to set boundaries for myself, too. But it’s good to know it’s not about me.
How about you—do you have any other Scriptures or key ways that help you love someone with anxiety? Share in the comments below!
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden.
She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team.
Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com.