Help! My Teen Is Struggling with Anxiety

This article is part of the Help! series.

A God-Centered Approach

After many months of battling anxiety, Pam had taken an overdose of pain medication and was rushed to hospital. Thankfully it wasn’t a fatal dose, and the next day she was transferred to a mental health unit for teens.

A week or so later, Pam returned home to her still-shocked parents. Pam’s attempted suicide had rocked them to the core and left them in the rubble of confusion, anger, fear, helplessness, and despair. They had attended some seminars for parents at the mental health unit while Pam was there and returned home with lots of leaflets and booklets, but they didn’t really know where to start. They called me and asked if I would meet with them. As they looked at me and then at Pam, their faces said, “We don’t know what to think, we don't know what to say, and we don’t know what to do.”

I’ve been in similar situations in different homes and with different parents. Most of them were really good homes and really good parents. Their kids went to really good schools and really good churches. But they were all in really bad situations.

“Friends,” I appealed, “we’ve got to stop looking at ourselves or at one another. We have to look to God. He knows what to think, he knows what to say, and he knows what to do.”

Everyone relaxed a little, I prayed for the Lord’s help, and started to reorient us all in a God-centered approach to recovering from this blow. While grateful for all the interventions and instructions from mental health professionals over the previous week, both Pam and her parents also needed a God-centered approach for long-term recovery. I therefore walked them through three truths that I’ve found helpful to parents and their kids through these times.

1. God Understands Anxious Kids

When anxiety invades our kids’ lives, confusion and perplexity storm into ours, and so do many unanswered and unanswerable questions. What did we do wrong? Why did she do this to us? What will people think? What’s really wrong with him? Is he on drugs? What’s God doing? While God may not answer these questions, we can answer on behalf of God in these two areas.

Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?

David Murray

Adults play a vital role in helping teenagers through anxiety and depression, and this book gives spiritual encouragement and practical direction for parents and other adults who want to help but don’t know what to do. A companion volume to Murray’s Why Am I Feeling Like This?, written for teenagers.

God Knows the Factors

It’s so important to bring our ignorance, our bewilderment, our demoralization, and our questions to God. Why? Because he alone knows all the factors involved in Pam’s suffering (Ps. 139:13-18). Anxiety can be an incredibly complex problem, and often has no single cause. It’s usually a mixture of various life events and life choices, some within our control and some not. What came first, second, third, and so on? What’s cause and what’s effect? God alone knows.

Therefore, go to God and acknowledge this, praise him for it, and ask him to share his insights with you, to lead you into more understanding of the various factors involved in your child’s suffering: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, and social factors. The more we understand, the more our children will sense our understanding, which alone be a huge accelerator of healing.

God Understands the Purpose

God not only understands the factors involved but he also knows the ultimate purpose of it all (Jer. 29:11). Although it may seem random to us, it’s not. God has brought this into our child’s life and into our life, but he has done so with a wise and good purpose (Rom. 8:28).

I’ve seen many kids transformed for good after recovering from anxiety. God uses their painful experience to mold them into more caring, sympathetic, and resilient adults. But perhaps God’s purpose in our children’s suffering may also be our own good. He uses such times to humble us, to make us more prayerful and dependent, and to equip us to be caring counselors to others too (2 Cor. 1:3-7).

“Alright,” you respond, “I’ll use God’s understanding of the factors and the purpose to help me understand the factors and purpose better. And I see how this will help me communicate more understanding to my child. But we're still sinking. I need more than God’s understanding. I need his strength.” That brings us to a second stabilizing truth.

2. God Supports Anxious Kids

God doesn’t just understand and sympathize, he also acts to support anxious kids. How does he do this? He does it by listening and by speaking.

Kids with anxiety often feel like no one listens to them, which of course only deepens the anxiety. We therefore want to encourage our kids to speak to God in prayer and sing to God in worship, because God listens to their prayers (Matt. 7:11) and appreciates their worship (Matt. 21:14-16). The fact that God always listens to and appreciates their voices can be used to help our kids express themselves to God honestly. God’s promise to listen to them is a strong support. But there’s another strong support.

God speaks into our kids’ lives through his word (Ps. 34:11-17). We therefore want to encourage our kids to keep reading the Bible and to read it, even just a few verses a day, as if God is speaking to them personally. We need this for ourselves too, and we can help our kids speak to God and listen to God by showing them how we speak and listen to God.

As we and our kids are supported by speaking to our listening God and by listening to our speaking God, we learn how to support one another. We learn how to listen supportively and speak supportively. These supports will stop us and our kids from sinking further and stabilize us for recovery.

“Yes, what about recovery?” you ask. “Understanding and support are great, but can God actually heal my kid, get her up out of this turmoil, and give her peace again?”

3. God Heals Anxious Kids

God sympathizes by understanding, he stabilizes by supporting, then he heals by providing many helpers and many helps. Neither the parents nor the kid are going to recover on their own. All have to reach out for God’s help. The key to rebuilding after anxiety is to use all the helpers and helps God has provided. Here are a few of them.

God Provides Many Helpers

  • Pastor: Even if the anxiety is mainly or partly a physical or biological problem, spiritual guidance is still needed. Ask your pastor to help with the child’s spiritual needs. Pastors can pour in the truth of God’s word and pour out their hearts in prayer.

  • Counselor: A pastor can do much, but a specialist counselor may also be required to help with more complicated issues. Someone who deals with anxious people all day every day is going to have a lot more experience and expertise than most pastors.

God not only understands the factors involved; he knows the ultimate purpose of it all.

  • Doctor: Involving a doctor at an early stage is also advisable as certain medical conditions can cause anxiety. Doctors can also provide a good objective outside assessment of whether your child is getting better or worse.

  • Friends: Although anxious kids tend to withdraw, encourage their friends to stay friends and maybe guide them in what to say or not to say. Socializing with those who love them is very therapeutic.

God Provides Many Helps

  • Routine: God has made us in such a way that our bodies love routine and thrive when there’s rhythm and regularity in our lives. Try to help your child get into a good sleeping, eating, resting, and working routine.

  • Rest: 7-8 hours of sleep a night and a weekly Sabbath are God’s gift to us and our kids (Ps. 127:2; Mark 2:27). Therefore, let’s receive these presents from God’s loving hand and use them to heal.

  • Exercise: When we exercise, our bodies expel damaging chemicals and produce healthy ones. Regular exercise gives a sense of well-being and accomplishment.

  • Digital downtime: Our brains are susceptible to over-stimulation from digital technology, so deliberate breaks and fasting from devices is usually essential for mental and emotional peace.

  • Nature: Jesus points us to nature to heal anxiety (Matt. 6:25-31). A God-centered view of the world is a uniquely powerful therapy.

Let’s help our kids and ourselves by using God’s helpers and God’s helps.

Use God’s understanding, support, and healing to understand, support, and heal your anxious children.

David Murray is the author of Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?: A Guide for Helping Teens through Anxiety and Depression.

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