If you have a friend or family member who suffers from severe anxiety, you know that at times their thoughts seem to race out of control. Here are several points to be aware of as you reach out in love to help them slow down and regain a clear focus:

Be ready to listen. The sufferer needs to talk out their thoughts - therefore, they need someone to be there to listen. That person is you. This is not, however, a five-minute conversation. It may take an hour or more for the person's thoughts to even begin to slow down. It is vital that you do not short-circuit this process. Don't rush it. Encourage the person to talk, and to get it all out on the table.

Watch for mental circling. The challenge with listening is to discern when talking becomes mental circling. The sufferer needs to talk out all their thoughts and fears. But repeating all those thoughts and fears multiple times is counterproductive. Therefore, be patient while they talk, but if you begin to hear the same things again and again, gently point out that now it is time to move forward. Recommend an activity, or change the focus of the conversation.

Suggest an activity. If at all possible, get together with the sufferer and do something active with them. Competitive sports, hobbies, etc., are very helpful. Be careful to avoid passive pastimes, i.e., TV or movies, because the sufferer can "tune out" whatever is on the screen and simply continue their previous thought cycles. If you can't get together personally with the sufferer, recommend something they can do on their own that will be engaging.

Take the initiative. Because anxiety breeds apathy, the sufferer may resist engaging in an activity. Part of them really does want to sit and stare at their anxious thoughts. They may literally not have the energy or the willpower to get up out of the chair by themselves. You may need to supply the energy and willpower they need, either by insisting that you engage in an activity together, or by literally encouraging them verbally until they get up and take the first step toward action.

Point the way to God. It is important to remember that when a person's thoughts are racing, they are essentially self-focused. Every sense is turned inward. Therefore, the sufferer cannot "see" God: they only see themselves and the things they fear. Draw their attention to God and away from themselves by directing them to verses that speak of God's might and power, his holiness, his love, his grace.

© 2009 Paula Marolewski

Author's Bio: 

Paula J. Marolewski provides challenging and interactive adult Bible studies for individuals, Bible studies, small groups, and adult Sunday School classes at Sink Your Roots (www.SinkYourRoots.com). The above article is an excerpt from Fire in My Mind.