I’m afraid, she said. I’m anxious something will go wrong. Will you pray with me?
Though I knew Moriah’s fears were unlikely to be realized, I hesitated to persuade her otherwise. What she needed in the moment wasn’t a “you’ll be fine” answer. She needed to know her fears were real and that someone cared.
I felt Moriah’s anxiety and vulnerability. I remembered my experience sharing fears about an upcoming situation. I needed those listening to take the fears I whispered seriously. I needed empathy and compassion.
Instead, well-meaning people told me, “You’ll be fine.” I put on the plastic smile I as I realized others didn’t understand the weight of my request. Not only did I have anxiety, but sharing those fears made me feel even more vulnerable and unsure.
I’m sure others thought I could handle things because I’m a counselor, life coach, and encouraging friend. But life experiences evoked real fear about my upcoming situation. Not being fine was a real possibility. Being told I’d be fine only made my vulnerability and fears more pronounced.
4 Better Ways to Respond
Have you ever received or given the “you’ll be fine” answer? If so, here are considerations when you’re tempted to dismiss someone’s fears.
Anxiety is real to those who struggle with it. Many adults (and teens) with situational or more chronic anxiety are aware of their fears. Empathic understanding lets a person know they are okay even though their fears may seem irrational. Anxiety feels like a weakness. When you acknowledge another’s struggle, you give them strength and affirmation.
Fears have a point of origin. Helping ourselves and others dispel anxiety involves validating the root causes of the incident(s) that precipitate the anxiety. You don’t have to know the reason for someone’s anxiety to respond compassionately. Simply acknowledging their current fears is helpful.
People who share their fears need support. It takes courage to share the dark things of the heart, mind, and soul. Fears may originate from deep pain or life events that have significantly impacted a person. What a person needs is empathy, a listening ear, and acknowledgment of their struggle. For a beautiful example, watch this.
Thank you for sharing is a good response. Empathy may not be your forte. That’s okay. It’s hard to relate to someone’s experience if you don’t understand why they would have fear or anxiety. Thanking them for sharing and listening to them validates them without placing a value judgement on their fears or feelings. As friends or family, our job isn’t to fix a situation for the person, but to support them. Asking how you can pray for or support them in their fears is appropriate. Even if you’re just a caring acquaintance, saying “thank you for sharing” is powerful and strengthening to the receiver.
We all need this
Fears are real. People need prayer, empathy, and truth: God is with you. He won’t leave you. Even if the worse happens, you will get through it.
Friends, things aren’t always fine in this life beyond the picket fence. We need each other in our weaknesses. How can we better support one another?
Note: These suggestions are not for clinically diagnosed anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety that impairs work, relationships, or quality of life, seek out a mental health professional or your family doctor. Anxiety is increasing among youth and adults. Take it seriously.