For those who have never experienced crippling fear, anxiety or panic attacks, it can be difficult to know how to help someone struggling through this “dark night of the soul.” Not knowing what to say, what to do or how to respond can make you feel powerless.
I have struggled with this condition and I’ve helped others, and I want to share some practical steps on how you can help someone struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. Whether you’re helping a friend, loved one, or family member, the following information can help you be a source of encouragement.
You Don’t Understand
I remember after a brutal night of sleeplessness and raging panic, someone close to me said, “I can understand what you’re going through.”
“Uh, no, you don’t. You have no idea what this is like.”
Unless you’ve experienced tormenting anxiety and panic attacks first hand, you’ll never understand what someone is going through. It can be terribly confusing and scary, and it’s very personal. Each person has to deal with this in their own way at their own speed, but each person can also find incredible joy and freedom that no one else knows.
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, but no one else can share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10).
The greatest thing someone ever did for me was to just listen. Trying to explain these unexplainable feelings is very difficult. It’s hard to put into words what happens during a panic attack. There are intense feelings, confusing emotions and crippling fear. It’s very hard to put into words. But, talking about it can be very insightful and healing.
Be willing to listen intently. And, listen with an open heart.
Then, as you listen…
Don’t Try to Fix the Problem
This can be incredible detrimental. Trying to fix the person can actually push them deeper into fear and confusion. Chronic fear and anxiety is not an easy fix. It’s a deep issue that takes time and compassion.
I remember so vividly going forward for prayer one morning. As I tried to explain these feelings of fear, the lady looked at my puzzled and said, “But God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear.” Had I not been in church, I might have punched her.
Unless you are skilled and experienced in helping people work through panic attacks and fear, don’t try to help. Attempting to “fix the problem” often creates shame and guilt.
People struggling with fear often feel alone and afraid. Having someone to talk to and be there in a time of need is incredibly encouraging.
When I was struggling with fear, the attacks would often hit me at 2 or 3 in the morning. A very close friend told me, “Russ, I will keep my phone next to my bed at night. Feel free to call at an hour if you need to talk.” I never had to call him, but knowing that he was ready to listen was very helpful.
Be willing to listen at any time. Be available at any hour. Just being available can be so encouraging.
It was incredible knowing that others were praying for me. I felt their prayers. I sensed God fighting for me. I found strength when I needed it most.
Pray for the person, that God will give them strength in this time of need. Pray for wisdom and understanding, that God will show how to tear down this stronghold of fear. And pray that God will help you be the friend they need.
Prayer: Father, help me to be a source of encouragement and hope to those struggling with fear, anxiety and panic attacks.