I felt like the worst mother in the world, and I yearned for the days when an Arthur Band-Aid and a kiss would heal any hurt. This kind of pain, this kind of struggle made me feel helpless. Although we were getting help, the progress was slow and laborious. Surely there was something left in my mama bag of tricks I hadn’t yet tried, if only I could think of it.
Since my daughter Brooke and I have been open about her battle with anxiety, she’s had the privilege to walk with a number of friends who are experiencing similar kinds of problems. As we were talking the other day about the kinds of conversations she has had with friends who are hurting, I asked her what she told them. How did she help? She offered these profound words:
I just remember what I wanted to hear.
So I asked her, Tell me. What did you want to hear when you were struggling?
Here are five loving messages she shared with me that might help you with someone you love who is struggling with anxiety:
1. “I understand what you are saying.”
Be present and listen. Listen with your whole self. Practice active listening skills by responding with words and phrases which indicate you hear what they’re saying and understand. While there may be a time for figuring out solutions, the most loving response initially is to listen without trying to fix the problem. If what they say is difficult to hear, be brave and try not to react in a way which might shut down the sharing. Some phrases which indicate you are listening might include:
- “Tell me more about that.”
- “I’m listening.”
- “It sounds like you feel…”
- “That must be hard/scary/difficult.”
- “What is the hardest part of this for you?”
- “What would make this easier?”
- “How can I help?”
2. “You aren’t losing your mind and you won’t always feel this way.”
When we feel intensely painful feelings, sometimes our greatest fear is that we will get stuck in this awful place and be lost there forever. Part of learning to manage difficult feelings is understanding that feelings are not forever. Feelings always pass. Feelings come in waves and sometimes it seems as if we are drowning in them. Knowing and understanding the temporary nature of feelings gives us courage to keep our head above water and continue fighting our way back to dry land.
“While there may be a time for figuring out solutions, the most loving response initially is to listen without trying to fix the problem.”
3. “I’m here ― no matter how bad it gets.”
When Brooke was so miserable and sick, we continually told her we were in this together. However long it took, we would get through it as a family. The fight wasn’t just her battle, it was our battle. We wanted her to know there would never be a point when we would give up and walk away. As a parent, this seemed so obvious we shouldn’t have to say the words out loud. Yet for the person who is struggling, these reassurances from friends or family are a lifeline of hope. Everyone, at some point in their life, desperately needs to hear the words “you are not alone.”
4. “This isn’t your fault.”
People who are struggling with emotional issues or mental illness often believe what they’re experiencing is a sign of weakness of character. If they were just strong enough, they could snap out of it. For many people of faith, this sense of guilt and responsibility runs even deeper. If I only had enough faith, if I only prayed more, if only I was a better person, I wouldn’t feel this way. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are illnesses which require treatment. Helping your loved one understand they are not to blame for their illness is a gift of love.
5. “I love you, so don’t give up.”
Lost in hopelessness and despair, a person who is struggling may begin to wonder if it is worth fighting. Thoughts of ending the pain become tempting. If this is the life I am destined to live, why even bother? My family and friends will be better off without me. While we may be hesitant to broach such an incredibly difficult topic, if there is any question at all, it is always better to ask to make sure our loved one is safe. Suicidal or self-harming thoughts are sometimes a symptom of depression, and we want to take every opportunity to reassure our friend or family member how much we care about their safety. They need to know their lives are valuable and worthy of the battle. They need to hear us say we love them and we are willing to fight by their side to help them find their way to the other side.
The messages above were Brooke’s five very wise and loving suggestions. Here is one more from me.
“I see your hard work to get better. I know how hard you are trying. You are so brave and I am so proud of you.”
To learn about our family’s journey with anxiety and Brooke’s brave story of hope, please read Our Journey Back: My Teenage Daughter’s Battle with Anxiety
Read more from Kelly at www.kellyiveyjohnson.com
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, please contact your doctor.