I’ve been a rather anxious person for most of my short (thus far) life. I was anxious about grades while in middle school, I was anxious about getting into college while in high school, and I was anxious about getting a job while a senior in college. Today, I’m anxious about an ever-lengthening “to-do” list that never seems to diminish. Tonight, I’m guessing I’ll be anxious about getting up early to go the gym. That being said, an article written by Daniel Smith (author of an anxiety-focused website, The Monkey Mind Chronicles) on what some have called our “Age of Anxiety” piqued my personal interest.
He throws down some pretty heavy facts, which, ironically enough, will likely provoke even more anxiety in those of us who will inevitably over-analyze ourselves to determine whether or not we are a component of these statistics:
“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders now affect 18 percent of the adult population of the United States, or about 40 million people. By comparison, mood disorders — depression and bipolar illness, primarily — affect 9.5 percent. That makes anxiety the most common psychiatric complaint by a wide margin, and one for which we are increasingly well-medicated… The anti-anxiety drug alprazolam — better known by its brand name, Xanax — was the top psychiatric drug on the list, clocking in at 46.3 million prescriptions in 2010.”
Needless to say, these statistics are pretty alarming. Still, Smith wisely reminds us that we, in our present state, should not be overly consumed with our ailment. Imagine yourself as a 15th century European who has seen entire villages decimated because of plague or war. Our worries about how many “likes” our projected selves on Facebook have garnered seem to pale in comparison to thoughts of famine or drought. I can imagine that the Xanax market would have been booming back then if it was available. According to Smith, a law-based understanding of God certainly did not help the collective psyche either – just as it doesn’t nowadays. It turns out anxiety is not just the stuff of the modern age – it lies at the core of human experience.
Another take on anxiety came from our favorite Christian existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard. In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard shed a different light on anxiety – that by experiencing anxiety, we enter an emotion intimately human.
“Sweet sentimental longing leads us to the goal of our desire, to see Christ walking about in the promised land. We forget the anxiety, the distress, the paradox. Was it such a simple matter not to make a mistake? Was it not terrifying that this man walking around among others was God? Was it not terrifying to sit down and eat with him? Was it such an easy matter to become an apostle?”
What does all of this collective anxiety lead us to conclude? We need grace. We need comfort. Is anxiety another vestige of our fallenness? Absolutely. As bound humans, we should be anxious in the presence of perfection – that is the only natural response. The stimuli may change over the centuries, but our responses don’t: aversion, disgrace, shame, etc. Similarly, God’s response to us is also the same, an offer of love and grace.
Does the “age of anxiety” ever end? No. But, neither does the grace of God.
Or get in touch.