How anxiety impacts the church experience and what members can do to help

Editor’s note: The purpose of this article is not to dispense medical advice or prescribe any type of therapy. The following is a conversation about anxiety and other mental health issues and resources.

Several years ago as a young father in Brazil, Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis went through several changes in a short period of time — triggering feelings of worry and anxiety that became unmanageable. 

His wife’s pregnancy had a high risk of losing the baby, and a family member was battling a serious health issue. At work, he was threatened with a steep penalty if an important project deadline wasn’t met. His ecclesiastical responsibilities as stake president were heavy. 

“I began worrying too much about some of these things. That developed into things that were much stronger, and at the end, I became depressed,” said the General Authority Seventy, recalling his experience during a recent Church News podcast. 

Episode 16: Anxiety and a Church resource for Life Help

“That was a very tough period in my life, a very dark period of my life. I wish I had been able to find help much sooner in order to prevent this from happening. … I really did not know where to turn.”

Today, more resources are available, and those who need professional help should seek it, Elder Aidukaitis said. “We should look for small signs of nervousness, of concern, of emotional distress, so that if possible, we prevent these things from developing further, in the way that it happened to me for example.”

In the podcast, Elder Aidukaitis was joined by Sister Carol Costley of the Young Women general advisory council and G. Sheldon Martin, a licensed mental health counselor and manager of special topics in the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department, to discuss what individuals, families and leaders can do to help those struggling with anxiety. 

Mental health is one of many topics available in the Life Help section of the Gospel Library app.
Mental health is one of many topics available in the Life Help section of the Gospel Library app. Credit: Screenshot

They invited Latter-day Saints to explore the Life Help section on ChurchofJesusChrist.org and in the Gospel Library app. This area provides gospel-centered teachings and support for a variety of life’s challenges, including mental and emotional health

The main objective of Life Help is two-fold: “to increase someone’s hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to provide practical helps in knowing where to turn,” Martin said. “We should never minimize the role and importance of medical treatment and professionals and providers, and the role that the Savior can uniquely play in someone’s life.”

Anxiety and perfectionism in the Church

Feeling nervous, apprehensive or anxious at times is part of the mortal journey. At one end of the spectrum, anxiety can be a healthy, motivating emotion; on the other end, anxiety can be a clinical diagnosis, Martin said. 

Different levels of anxiety on this spectrum can impact Latter-day Saints of all ages, backgrounds and experiences — including in the church setting where the opportunities for someone to feel anxious are many, he continued.  

For example, some may worry what others think of them when they come to church; others may worry about meeting with a leader in an interview. Some may struggle with perfectionism in the gospel and their standing before the Lord. 

“Being aware of this could be very helpful as we minister one to another,” Martin said. 

Learn more about anxiety and anxiety disorders

As Elder Aidukaitis experienced, responsibilities at home, at work and at church may become overwhelming at times. Martin recommended living the principle of “inspired neglect.” 

“We’re not going to be all things to all people and all items at all times,” he said. “We can be disciples of Christ and strive to be what He wants us to, but that does not mean that we have to complete every potential to-do item on the list. Some things just won’t get done.”

And for those struggling with perfectionism in the gospel, “I think that it is very important that we focus on the key messages of striving to become as the Savior, that we are on the road, and we want direction first and velocity second.”

What parents and families can do

Youth today face pressure to succeed in every aspect of their lives, said Sister Costley, a social worker with a background in mental health. They also fall victim to comparison culture on social media. For youth, anxiety “is a real thing.”

Carol Lawrence-Costley of the Young Women general advisory council.
Carol Lawrence-Costley of the Young Women general advisory council. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

To youth who are spreading themselves “thin,” she said, “every once in a while, I think it’s important to take a step back, to take a breath, and to really look at what’s important.”

Sister Costley said maintaining the parent-child relationship is “critical” to help and healing. As parents move away from reinforcing perfectionistic tendencies or behaviors, they’ll help their children learn that “life is about growing and changing and becoming better, but not necessarily perfect.”

From her experiences as a parent, “Our view is sometimes clouded because we have a story that we’ve pre-written for our children. … It’s so easy to personalize and to take the blame, and then we lose sight of how we can best help our children.”

Read more: How family support — and a good night’s sleep — are helping teens navigate pandemic

Dismissals and snap judgments can drive a wedge in a relationship, but “listening and validating really is the key.” 

“Don’t be afraid to offer an apology or to request a do-over,” Sister Costley said. “I really believe that as we pray to identify goals to help them with their challenges, we will be able to be a resource, in addition to the Savior, in their lives.”

What leaders and ministering brothers and sisters can do

When offering help and support to those struggling with anxiety, “I believe a trusted mentor is key for everyone,” Elder Aidukaitis said. 

“When we are invited to be ministering brothers or sisters, we’re really being invited to be that in the Savior’s way, how He was,” he said. As ministering brothers and sisters are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, they will be able to identify opportunities to help — and not just the people they are assigned to minister to. 

In Acts, the Apostle Paul had a vision of a man who prayed, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” After the vision, Paul wrote, “we immediately endeavoured to go into Macedonia” (Acts 16:9-10). 

Elder Aidukaitis said of Paul’s experience, “I do think there are many people around us that are praying that very prayer today, ‘come over and help us.’ I wish we would be in tune with the Spirit, so that we may feel it and immediately act on it.”

A mother in Romania hugs her daughter while out for a walk. The Church's Life Help resources are designed to help individuals and families with life's challenges, including mental and emotional health.
A mother in Romania hugs her daughter while out for a walk. The Church’s Life Help resources are designed to help individuals and families with life’s challenges, including mental and emotional health. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As he looks back on the difficult period of depression earlier in his life, Elder Aidukaitis said, “I now know that help is at our fingertips, literally. We can access it from wherever we are. …

“I also know now that in a deeper way that the greatest mentor that we have is indeed our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. And He knows these feelings in a personal way. We shouldn’t forget that. He took upon Himself our infirmities. … He understands ‘how to succor His people according to their infirmities’ (Alma 7:12). …

“If we follow the principles and directions found in Life Help and the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are bound to resolve most of the issues in our lives.”

Find Life Help resources for mental and emotional health in the Gospel Library app and at lifehelp.ChurchofJesusChrist.org. This topic and others are available in multiple languages.