There were twenty-three unread text messages on my phone. It had been days since I responded to anyone. I didn’t have it in me to speak to trivial issues in the lives of the people around me. I was underwater with anxiety and depression creeping in. I didn’t want to get out of bed or even pull the covers off of my head. I wanted to disconnect from everything and everyone.
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Anxiety and Depression Will Isolate the Sufferer
Sometimes those dealing with a mental illness do not want to be a burden to those they love, but most often they do not know how to articulate what they are walking through. It can become increasingly difficult to explain over and over to someone the way you feel. Most of the time it is simply easier to ignore and isolate.
Friendships can be really hard to maintain, especially for someone with anxiety and depression. In harder seasons, one friend will carry most of the weight of the relationship, and we have to be willing to carry that weight. A good friend will help carry the weight of another’s burdens.
There are many ways a friend can support an individual walking through a tough season of anxiety and depression. Good friends don’t just appear when things are going well, they stick close when hard times come as well.
“A faithful friend loves at all times, and a brother is born of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
1. A Friend Must Have Realistic Expectations
When dealing with a friend who is struggling with anxiety we have to have realistic expectations of them and their responses. There is a strong chance they will not respond during harder seasons. They may also not want visitors or know how to rightly respond to you. We have to be friends who are willing to give grace and not expect more from our friends than they can give in the season they are in. Setting expectations too high can lead to hurt feelings on both sides and cause undue stress.
2. A Friend Must Choose Their Timing
Timing can truly be everything. If action is taken too early, there may not be a proper response; if it is taken too late, well... it may be too late. We have to choose our timing. If we understand our friends' ups and downs then we will be able to learn what the right time may be to step in and encourage, deliver a treat, or call them. Sometimes, when a friend is walking through severe anxiety it may be better to give them a few days before seeing them. Start with a text first.
3. A Friend Will be an Encouragement, Reminding Their Friend They Aren't Alone
One of the strongest feelings that comes along when anxiety strikes is being alone and isolated. It can often feel like no one understands what you are feeling or dealing with. It is a crippling feeling. Letting your friend know that you are there and they are not walking through this alone can make a huge difference in your friend's life.
4. A Friend Will Pray
For some, this may be our last thought; we may think that prayer won’t be helpful when in fact it is. Scripture reminds us that we can carry our friends' burdens to God when they cannot themselves, and often, most anxiety sufferers struggle with what to specifically pray or may feel God is far off. Pray that God will give strength and peace to your friend. David throughout the Psalms cried out in prayer again and again for the burdens that weighed down his heart. We can take our cares and burdens to God and He can work on our hearts and minds.
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5. A Friend Will Find a Way to Bless Them
There are many ways to bless a friend dealing with anxiety or depression. Make a comforting meal, deliver their favorite treat, or send a gift of encouragement. You can also bless a friend by sending a text, making a phone call, or sending a card in the mail. It is helpful to know that you are thought of and prayed for. There are many ways to reach out to bless a friend when they are struggling; sometimes it looks like being a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen to, or just someone sitting with you in the quiet.
6. A Friend Will Not Push, or Offer Cliche Advice
Most anxiety sufferers know that the struggle in their minds is chaotic. They also know that they shouldn’t or don’t need to worry. Throwing cliches like “trust God more,” or “you need more faith,” or even “just stop,” won’t help the person who is struggling. Coping with anxiety is something we cannot and will not ever be able to do in our strength. We require the strength of God and the inner working of the Holy Spirit to make it through each day. Don’t get frustrated or pushy with your friend who is struggling; it won’t help them.
A friend will show up if needed. A friend will show up whenever and wherever needed, no questions asked. Being a friend who walks alongside someone with anxiety or depression may look like sitting in silence with them, laying next to them when they cannot get out of bed, or it may look like babysitting or offering to fold laundry. Give your friend specific ways you want to help. Or just act on them.
7. A Friend Will Educate Themselves
Maybe you are a friend who knows very little about anxiety or depression, or maybe you have never walked through that yourself; it is important to educate yourself on mental health and gain some insight about what your friend is walking through. Educating yourself may be asking your friend how they feel, considering the thoughts going through their mind, or learning what they are feeling physically (most anxiety sufferers deal with a multitude of physical issues as a result).
9. Being a Friend on a Normal Day Can be Challenging but Essential
This is even more essential when you have a friend struggling with mental health disorders. Friendship is essential because it holds us up when we cannot stand on our own. There are many ways to care for a friend who is suffering; it doesn’t take much effort to step in and love them well. It can be as simple as checking in with a quick text and reminding them they are not alone.
It's no secret that since 2020, many people have developed hard bouts of depression and anxiety. Others, who struggled with these mental illnesses already are now dealing with more severe cases of their condition. While it might be uncomfortable to ask a friend how their mental health is, it's crucial. Just as clinical therapy sessions offer medicine and tools to work through a mental disorder, your words of encouragement can serve as a powerful tool of encouragement and hope. Don't count out the weight your words carry.
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Originally published Monday, 23 May 2022.