Anxiety seems to be the increasing plague in our culture today. Over and over again fear and anxiety is what is bubbling out of our youth. With anxiety and stress being at an all time high we need to know how we as youth leaders, pastors, and mentors can come alongside and not only support, and listen to our youth but teach them the supernatural peace that we can live in that passes all worldly understanding. The peace that is described in Philippians 4:7- “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
According to the anxiety and depression association of America, anxiety is the most common mental illness in America. More than 40 million people aged 18 and over suffer with severe anxiety.
Anxiety is a heaviness that drains your thoughts by overthinking and overanalyzing everything. It makes you question every move you make and constantly throws “what if” questions at you, that spirals from one question to another, I like to call it the hamster wheel that continues to move.
Anxiety can become like a revolving door that is hard to escape from which can cause vicious anxiety attacks where your body becomes the victim. Each person will manifest anxiety in a different way. Some of the most common ways you can experience anxiety are: nail biting, busyness, perfectionism, knots in your stomach, shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, starting to tremble, excessive crying, and your muscles becoming increasingly sore from the tension your body is under. Anxiety is always looking for the next way to escape in hopes to exhaust the thoughts that go through your head. At times you feel like a like a thick bubble is slowly surrounding you, constricting your everyday life making everyday, normal decisions increasingly harder to do.
The thing with anxiety is you cannot take an antibiotic to make it disappear within a couple of days. It is something you walk with day in and day out. You start to feel isolated from the world because you feel like no one fully understands you and your thoughts. So you begin to become detached from the world, and mentally shut down.
As someone who suffers with anxiety on a daily basis I know the hope and peace that Jesus can bring into every anxious situation, I know how much he adores walking alongside each person who struggles with anxiety and wants to wrap his “papa” arms around them. I know how with every unending anxious thought his love is also unending.
I also know how quickly the enemy will jump on any anxious thoughts and insert lies like, “The anxiety will never end,” or “your thoughts and feelings are a burden,” or “you are not good enough.” He tries to install fear to the point of crippling you, where you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “how in the world did my thoughts get to this point?” The enemy loves to climb on any and everything that we battle with. He will make you feel inadequate, make you want to isolate, and magnify any anxious thought that comes your way. As someone who deals with anxiety, here are some practical suggestions for ministering to anxiety in your students:
As we interact with students who are dealing with anxiety we first and foremost need to build a relationship with them so that they can begin to trust us. A relationship where a student can trust you needs to happen before you can move on with anything else. The student needs to know in the bottom of their heart that you will listen to them, have their best interests at heart, and respect them. When you battle with anxiety you will have anxiety about telling people you have anxiety, so having a trusting relationship is key.
Remind Them of Their Hope in Christ
Once we have created a safe and trusting relationship we need to constantly be reminding them of the hope that Jesus brings—the hope that Jesus can bring in the middle of every anxious thought. That constant reminder is a big deal—that through every anxious thought, through every anxiety attack, Jesus is right by their side inviting them to hold his hand. He wants them to give him every anxious thought and in exchange to receive his love, affirmation and supernatural peace. This is something that will benefit every student, regardless of whether they face anxiety or not. In moments of stress which all students face, to have the ability to receive God’s peace is irreplaceable and will benefit them for the rest of their life.
Teach Them To Fight!
We not only need to be teaching them how Jesus is the hope and life giver but we need to be teaching them how to push back the enemy’s lies so that in those moments of anxious thoughts they can begin to not only receive Jesus’ peace, but also begin to tell the enemy to leave them alone. They belong to their papa, and we need to teach them how to say no to every lie the enemy throws at them because it is something they will constantly face. Teaching them the practicals on how to push back the enemy and to even say out loud, “Enemy, leave me alone, stop lying to me, I belong to Jesus, get off my back.” is something each and every student needs to have in their toolbox. Even if they are not facing anxiety, it is something each student needs to become really good at because the enemy’s lies don’t stop.
Lastly know that there are professionals who know how to deal with anxiety. Please don’t ever hesitate to refer a student and family to a local counselor and psychiatrist who knows what is happening mentally and psychologically and is equipped to manage anxiety. Anxiety is a brain chemical imbalance and sometimes all a student will need is medicine to lead a healthy and functional life.