How Do You Talk To Someone When They Are Dealing With Anxiety

It’s estimated that a quarter of Australians will face an anxiety condition in their lifetimes. The impact of anxiety can be crippling and it can be difficult as a friend or family member to know how to approach the subject with a loved one. In this Counsel Culture podcast, Nick Marks, CEO of Australian Institute of Family Counselling, leads a discussion with three people who are working through anxiety to glean best practices on how to talk with someone when they are struggling with anxiety.
Giving anxiety a name
Author Nikki Thompson is a wife and mother of three children. Her struggles with chronic anxiety and panic disorder are documented in her book “Fight, Flight and Faith: A Life with Anxiety and Jesus.”
Asked when she first became aware of her anxiety, Nikki can trace struggling with anxious thoughts as a child which she thinks was due to being a perfectionist. But when Nikki was 19, her brother who she was very close to died suddenly and this tragic event shook her world. It wasn’t until Nikki was nearing her 21st birthday that she started to experience physical sensations where she felt extreme dread and had a racing heartbeat. Eventually Nikki went to see a GP who described to her that she was having panic attacks. Through counselling and working with a psychologist, it took her several years to be able to understand her anxiety and live with it better.
Steve Barnard is a pastor at a church in the northern suburbs of Sydney, husband and father of three young boys. Steve recalls how his anxiety manifested,
“It was this churning of the gut, it was this sense of dread, it was nausea at times. In its worst form it was this sense of panic.”
Like Nikki, counselling helped Steve to identify emotions in himself to better manage his anxiety.
Accepting your vulnerability and humanity
In the first few years, Nikki said she had a fight or flight response to her anxiety and wanted to get rid of her suffering at all costs. However this approach became counterproductive as she was only becoming more obsessed with her condition. Nikki provides some sage advice to listeners struggling with anxiety,
“It’s about accepting your own vulnerability and humanity but that doesn’t have to be worshipping yourself, it’s worshipping God. Through that you become more secure and find more growth.”
Steve also tried to avoid his anxiety but it wouldn’t go away. It was in his late teens and early twenties that he was able to give his feelings of dread a name which was a first step towards healing.
Not being defined by anxiety
A significant turning point for Steve came one day when he was about to lead a youth group and a thought came to his mind,
“I am not defined by how I feel, I am defined by who God says I am.”
Rather than owning anxiety as part of Steve’s identity, he was able to ground his worth in God’s thoughts about him. Steve notes,
“I realised I didn’t want to be defined by anxiety rather I wanted my identity to be based on who God says I am.”
While Steve found comfort in God’s Word, Nikki cautions people wanting to help friends and family with anxiety to use scriptures in a formulaic way. This includes using bible verses out of context or like weapons as it can come across as minimising someone’s pain.
Meditating on God’s Truth
Guan Un is a computer programmer and has also had to grapple with anxiety. He is the author of a short book “Anxiety and Me: Biblical Thoughts to Help Anxious Believers” to help Christians dealing with an anxiety disorder. During dark times, Guan would turn to the Psalms and chose specifically Psalm 131 for its brevity as the basis of his book. Guan observes:
“When you are in the thick of anxiety, you want something short enough to read and remember.”
Guan says Psalm 131 holds a lot of meaning for him as it is quite reflective of the experience of anxiety. Psalm 131 is describing a world that is raging and there is no place to grasp a handhold. Guan reflects,
“There are things that are beyond me and that is ok because we have a wonderful God who is thoroughly in control no matter how out of control things seem to be.”
Steve says coming back to the present moment and connecting with his five senses helps in managing his anxiety. He points to Matthew 6 and Jesus’ instruction to look at the birds and flowers and this idea of being present in the moment. Guan also finds great comfort in Matthew 6 as it is a tangible reminder of God’s goodness when we get into creation and see His faithful provision.
Listen more to the Counsel Culture podcast here.
About Nick Marks

Nicholas Marks is the CEO of The Australian Institute of Family Counselling (aifc) – aifc is a specialised ministry, education and training, and service delivery organisation. Operating for over 25 years the aifc mission is transformed lives, flourishing relationships and changed communities through Christian counselling and equipping people for life.

Prior to this, Nicholas has previously worked in public health, business consulting, Federal Government, and a number of start-up organisations. Nicholas serves on numerous boards and is a Member of the AICD.