Discipling people with anxiety

These are pages taken from our ‘Good News For Real Life’ booklet. They contain short introductions to some common pastoral struggles. Think of them as conversation-starters to help us begin to understand and respond to complex issues. Not as experts but as brothers and sisters in Christ — pointing one another to Jesus with words of hope and grace.


In other words: to walk together as those with good news for real life

WHAT IS ANXIETY?

Anxiety is a sense of worry, fear or dread. It can be mild (eg dis-ease or tension at a pending house move) or severe (where palpitations and panic attacks may be a frequent part of life). It can be related to a real event (eg the approach of exam season) or a more generalised sense of dread (something bad is going to happen). One of the most serious forms of anxiety disorder is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where people can experience flashbacks to traumatic events, feel constantly “on edge” (hyper-alert) and may engage in avoidance behaviour (eg not going out) or numbing behaviour (eg drinking alcohol in an unhealthy way) to reduce the sense of fear. Anxiety can make concentration and sleep hard – events with big crowds (eg parties or even church) can feel overwhelming. Mild anxiety is a very common experience. More severe anxiety benefits from medical intervention.

WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY?

Anxiety is a sense of worry, fear or dread. It can be mild (eg dis-ease or tension at a pending house move) or severe (where palpitations and panic attacks may be a frequent part of life). It can be related to a real event (eg the approach of exam season) or a more generalised sense of dread (something bad is going to happen). One of the most serious forms of anxiety disorder is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where people can experience flashbacks to traumatic events, feel constantly “on edge” (hyper-alert) and may engage in avoidance behaviour (eg not going out) or numbing behaviour (eg drinking alcohol in an unhealthy way) to reduce the sense of fear. Anxiety can make concentration and sleep hard – events with big crowds (eg parties or even church) can feel overwhelming. Mild anxiety is a very common experience. More severe anxiety benefits from medical intervention.

PRACTICAL STRATEGIES

When someone is feeling anxious, it is useful to encourage them to breathe deeply and slowly – to employ relaxation techniques – and, if feeling panicky, to engaging in grounding techniques (eg counting backwards while tapping each finger in turn). Meditation (especially meditating on a biblical theme) and art can be useful, as can exercise and medication. Putting in time-management strategies and rest also have a part to play.

HOW CAN WE POINT AN ANXIOUS PERSON TO JESUS?

Remember that tough times and anxiety are both normal – Jesus taught on them because he knows we will struggle with them (Matthew 6). Listen to their struggles

Reflect on the person and provision of God – he is deeply relational (1 John 3:1) and worthy of our trust. He provides for his people one day at a time (Exodus 16)

Reflect on the presence of God – people’s struggles are not hidden (Psalm 139) and they are not alone (Psalm 46). Reinforce this with a favourite song not just reading!

Use metaphors and narratives from the Bible to explore our true security: God is leading and protecting (Psalm 23), he’s a rock and refuge (Psalm 18), he’s sovereign over all things (Mark 1-8) and bringing good out of hard things (look at Joseph and/or Ruth – there is a plan, though we don’t want to over-promise what God will give us now!)

Encourage prayer – turning to the Lord in hope not to our fears in despair (Philippians 4:6)

Discuss how the church community can be most helpful in spurring on (Hebrews 10:24)

Encourage perseverance – anxiety won’t exist in the life to come, so we can keep going now (Revelation 21)

FURTHER READING

Running Scared: Fear, Worry and the God of Rest by Edward Welch (New Growth Press)

More about the author :

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne