The Truth About Teen Anxiety - Part 2
Anxiety can look like different things to different people. For me, it was like when the eerie music begins in a scary movie; you can't quite see what you should be afraid of, and yet you know it's there. Living with anxiety is like living with the permanence of that feeling all the time, and it's the loudest sound in the room. If you ask youth today what anxiety is like, their answers will vary from a prison to a rollercoaster to a formidable foe. You can find gifs, memes, and artwork from Gen Z that depict the battle they are struggling with every day.
While anxiety is difficult it can sometimes be helpful as it notifies us when something is not quite right or is unsafe. It can often be debilitating, isolating; it eventually consumes life, identity, and health. In the previous blog, we discussed ways that we can help our children manage their anxiety in healthy ways. Today I want to broaden our discussion and ask what it looks like for the Christian community to help younger generations with the messaging and support we provide when they are struggling. Being in youth ministry for the past fourteen years has taught me that there are four different messages we need to communicate when discussing anxiety with a younger generation.
1.) Come as you are: It's difficult as an adult, let alone a youth, not to give the superficial answer of "Good" when someone asks how they're doing. For Gen Z, the external is everything, and understanding that the simple answers they give barely scratch the surface of what’s going on in their lives. We need to create a safe and supportive space within the Church that allows young people to share honestly and openly about the challenging struggles they face. These conversations must be judgment-free and cannot imply any expectation that their issues are fixed and will never resurface once disclosed.
2.) We are not alone in our anxiety: We need to encourage youth to read the Bible to learn how various biblical figures faced the same kinds of struggles youth face today. They will learn how these people felt in the situations they dealt with, and what motivated their choices (good or bad). Examples include David, Elijah, Moses, Jacob, Sarah, and many more. Discuss these biblical stories of people struggling with anxiety and how God walked with them through their struggles, never leaving them alone.
3.) They can always talk to you: We need to discuss mental health within the Church. Our students discuss mental health regularly in their everyday world and we need to be doing the same within the Church. Intentionally train yourself on how to discuss these challenging topics sensitively and how to ask direct questions delicately. We need to research and prepare ourselves for these conversations to recognize the signs and open the door when they arise. We cannot wait for young people who are hurting to come to us; instead, we need to be vulnerable, lead by example, and discuss what we are struggling with in life. This demonstrates that the Church can be a place they can come to if they need to talk about their feelings.
4.) Communicating that asking for help or admitting you do not have it all together is not weak; it is vital: We need to be teaching our students that as people of faith, we are to draw strength from our community and those that love us. Learn to lean into those relationships you have with empathetic and mature Christian adults. Connect these individuals with your child, who may need a compassionate and understanding ear. Keep yourself informed on local qualified therapists and support resources you can also lean on, should your child need it.
Finally, let your students know that you are there for them in good times and bad. You are part of a positive web of influence they can go to, without fear of judgment. As we support them and love them, they will find hope. After all, aren’t we all struggling with something that we need to talk about with a trusted friend?