5 Tips To Help Someone Feeling Overwhelmed and Discouraged

By Joe Padilla
In Hope & Healing
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Learning to provide comfort and encouragement for those who are experiencing dark days can be challenging. We are told that the “ministry of presence” (just being there) for others is what they need... but how does that work, practically?

Whether you are a church leader, parent, spouse, friend, or in any role serving others, we all could use simple tips on how to have a ministry of presence and comfort.

1) Be present for the growth process for new meaning and resilience vs. the fix-it breakthrough for achievement.

Supporting anyone in this journey is about patience for the process, not pushing to achieve everything in a five-, seven-, or twelve-step healing, breakthrough, or “fix-it” program. Sometimes these programs are recommended as if it will fix everything, but if that’s the motive, it can sometimes make it more frustrating. These programs with specific “steps” are more principles for the growth and healing PROCESS; they are helpful guardrails for the journey.

Why It’s a Process.

Mental and emotional pain (i.e., depression, anxiety, racing thoughts, constant irritability, etc.) is a disruption of the world we know, our sense and control of our “normal” is lost. The brain and body is activated into a “survive” and “resist” state of being (i.e., adaptation syndrome). The brain and body is naturally trying to learn new meaning, resilience and growth. So, in that process we try to make sense of the disruption and to create new predictable safety, control, and adapt - to grow from it. So, with the mental and emotional disruption it’s natural to start having deeper questions about ourselves, God, relationships, etc. Especially in their faith experience, it can sound like doubt (even sound heretical), but it’s actually a journey for wisdom.In a sense the mental and emotional disruption is a grief that is bridging life toward new meaning.

Any disruption of our lives needs time and space for self-discovery and simple tools on how to manage this new journey (i.e., meaning and resilience). Being aware of this, our “ministry of presence” is providing a safe and comforting environment for them to grow and heal!

2) Be present with empowering language vs. encouraging expectations.

When looking to support them try to not to use the word, need,” but instead use the word, like.” Asking the person who is overwhelmed, “What do you need?” or "What do you think you need to do?” can cause more stress than we think. This type of question is usually followed up with all the “have-to’s” or “need to-do list,” … whether they “like” it or not. So, I often find the “Need” language can reinforce the first point, a feeling to “fix-it,” or fix themselves so they stop failing or eliminate their “bad emotions” (i.e., symptoms). It can subtly come across as if we’re saying …

“Work harder to get your needs fulfilled to make your pain go away … tell us what those needs are and we will keep you accountable to see you get fixed and see your breakthrough.”

Obviously, that’s not our intention and we would never imply that! We don’t realize how that simple expression causes them more pressure, not relief. Plus, the person is so overwhelmed and discouraged, they honestly may not know what they “need” (or maybe they’d be doing it).

However, it may be better to ask,

“Is there anything you would like?” or “Is there anything you would like to try that you think might be helpful?”

This type of question takes all the pressure off from them being right or wrong and instead empowers them to be back in charge of their journey. It changes the conversation from a “fix-it” (fix yourself) to now empowering them to explore what really resonates with them (ultimately, their own unique needs). They may even come up with ideas that would come from the “needs” question, but it’s coming from empowerment, not expectations.

Now, depending how overwhelmed or discouraged they are, they may still not know what they would like. Then, you can suggest ideas to see what resonates, what they like vs. a list of “need to-do.” Even if they try the ideas and they don’t work, it’s okay, because they are exploring from their strength. Then, they can simply try something else they “like.” The process keeps going.

At the end of the day, “Need” language comes across as expectations for success or failure; “Like” can come across as empowering them to discover what really resonates with who they are and gives them the confidence to try things they can do (grow in).

3) Be present with a growth-encouragement mindset vs. general-absolutes mindset.

We all thrive off encouragement but even more so when it’s a little more specific. An “absolute encouragement mindset” is when we say, “You’re great” or “You’re so smart!” . . . “therefore, you can do this!” This is nice, but it doesn’t spur them on. Rather use a “growth encouragement mindset” to highlight their qualities, character strengths, and most importantly any specific effort you see. For example,

“You’re great . . . because I can really see how you’re using your relaxation tools to work down your stress and anxiety and how you’re keeping to your new routine to stay on track these days. You seem more calm and your mood is improving. It’s such an example of seeing your faith and God’s grace in action. I’m seeing you grow and change.”

Here’s why this works.

Instead of waiting for the “goal’ or “dream” to be fulfilled, celebrating the effort and process of action rewards the fact that they are headed in the right direction (their healing, new meaning and resilience). This encouragement enhances and balances together the neurocircuity (dopamine - associated with reward) and norepinephrine (stress for motion) to reinforce those specific efforts and saying, “We’re headed in the right direction.” And this it’s the same chemistry needed for getting through other challenges (i.e., a chemistry of resilience). The key is that we have to pause to literally celebrate those moments! It’s the micro celebrations, encouragement that compound to the full goal, dream, and new meaning and resilience.

For example, when my wife was at her worst, experience debilitating depression, she struggled with very low energy and motivation. To help I did most of the cooking, cleaning, etc. but one time she got up to help with the cleaning of the kitchen. It was only 5 minutes! Before I would have been disappointed expecting more, but I had learned how her depression fatigued her, and this time I celebrated her. I praised her for doing as much as she could, it was part of her process, not failure to do more. Over time her energy increased wanting to share in our full family responsibilities and fun.

God is this way in His specific encouragement,

“For God is not unjust so as to forget the work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to all the saints." — Hebrews 6:10 (NAS)

This “growth encouragement mindset” language can help them move beyond the negative views that keep them locked up to see new potentials and abilities - moving into new healthy self-esteem identity (fixed mindset vs. growth mindset). Overall, this type of growth encouragement empowers them to stay on their healthy track and allows them to even innovate their process for other challenges.

4) Be present to listen and learn vs. teach and track.

If you’re highly trained, skilled, and even have extensive Bible knowledge for many of life challenges, and/or have your own overcoming personal experience with incredible insights and tools, it’s very tempting to use the time to teach your incredible insights and then keep track how they apply what you taught them. Or it’s also tempting to use part of the time to share your own story to motivate their change — “I did it, so you can do it, too!” This equates to someone hearing about your problems and then sending you a self-help or spiritual book on the topic, “Read this book, it will help you.” Most people are offended, put it on the shelf or throw it away.

Our knowledge and experiences are extremely valid to help guide others, but it’s more helpful that we take more time to listen and celebrate what they are learning and add-in our insights where needed … or when asked.

So this means learning and getting good at active listening. Listening well so that we first can reflect back what they are saying (validating what they’re experiencing) and then ask simple follow up questions to help them clarify various points (helping them learn and process their own solutions). ………..

As you learn to take more time to listen you’ll discover some of the things they are learning, even spiritually, may seem basic to you but is the very thing (deeper value) that needs to be celebrated. You can even ask them to show you (teach you) how they are applying new insights or tools that are working for them (it may even benefit you too). What they’re learning will empower greater growth (personal identity value) than our knowledge or experiences.

“BUT wait, what about my knowledge and experience, I know it can be encouraging for them … even be helpful?”

And it is! From my experience coaching/mentoring others is knowing when and how to use our insights/experience to affirm where they are, what they are learning, and where they are going in their process - not as what they “need” to understand, where they “need” to be or what they “need” to do. So, share your knowledge and experiences to help them both celebrate and explore where they are and where they want to go in their journey. In fact, they may even want to try the exact tools you use. It will give them a starting point, but then encourage them to adapt or change it to work for them — or abandon it if it doesn’t work.

In my experience, if they want to know more from your extensive knowledge and/or incredible journey, they will ask … and they eventually will. But even then, I suggest keeping it relevant to where they are and where they are headed in their journey.

5) Be present with confident comfort vs. building to a breakthrough.

Mental and emotional distress will always lend to this heartfelt need: “Crying out to God for a breakthrough.” That mental and emotional distress naturally creates a negative 3D spiritual illusion of:

  1. Distant God – distanced form of correction-teaching, sanctification, punishment/discipline, or feeling abandoned for all of the above.
  2. Defeated faith - reaping “bad” things for a lack of faith or weak faith, and now more vulnerable to “the enemy” than God’s presence (reinforcing the first point).
  3. Despair for a breakthrough - Do more “faithfulness to God” and get more God’s “faithfulness to us.” This is works-based thinking and tries to get God’s attention by doing more of what He likes in order get Him to reward us with healing (it makes God's goodness seem more arbitrary).

As I mentioned above, experiencing intense mental and emotional distress the brain is in “threat” mode to survive and resist. That stress process is causing more critical thinking to fight/survive, not a process for perspective. This ongoing challenge leads to a state of being, a full physical experience that reinforces these spiritual illusions. Unfortunately, the 3D illusion is supported by some Biblical teachings (especially if their whole foundation of teaching is more about being “sinners in the hands of an angry God" than being saved in the hands of a loving God).

In this case, you can ask them if they would “like” to see comforting and encouraging scriptures. Then, you can point out 1-3 scriptures and have them read aloud. Let them read and discover. Don’t turn it into you teaching them but create a dialogue that always points back to God’s comfort and grace in the now, not praying or working for it to come down from a far-off heaven.

Why this is important.

Comfort activates the brain and nervous system to release the healing hormones in the body to help reduce stress. It helps reset the nervous system to a calmer state!

For example, I coached an individual with intense anxiety and distressing thoughts, and his faith was influenced from a perspective that “spiritual disciplines = God’s goodness and presence.” His faith-anxiety struggled with this “3D illusion” and I helped him discover rest vs. works. Then, he learned to deal with his distressing faith-anxiety by asking himself, “Where’s the REST of God in that?” Overall, this simple tool encouraged and empowered him to discover his own comfort-based response (and experience). In fact, he did so well, instead of backing out of church activities, he got more engaged in his church’s community groups and ministry opportunities.

Joe Padilla | The Grace Alliance

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