What Are You Worried About?
A story in this weekend's Wall Street Journal reports that a new panel of doctors assembled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that all adults be screened for anxiety by their primary physicians. They declare that the country suffers from an "epidemic" of anxiety and that therefore we need to do something about it. Life cannot go on like this.
I submit that life can indeed go on like this, and that in fact it must. We have no choice if we are continue to exist as sentient human beings.
This story did not make me feel anxious; it made me feel that most people are reacting normally to the craziness that has overtaken our world. The experts maintain that the reality we face every day is more than we can handle and we're too stressed out as a result.
There is no need to recite the litany of events that are capable of causing anxious reactions. Everyone knows that our cities are in turmoil; the economy stinks; racist accusations dominate the headlines; our marriages are shredded; gender is arbitrary; our kids are immersed in smart phones with instant access to pornography and self-abasement; schools have ceased to function; religion has been banned; government intrudes ever more into our lives and we await on a daily basis what new cultural idiocy will be unleashed upon us.
In such a dismal scenario, ask yourself: How can one not be anxious about the future of our world?
Admittedly there is a difference between anxiety and worrying. But it is not a big difference.
And there is also a difference between the type of temporary anxiety we all feel when checking our shrinking bank accounts and the chronic gnawing anxiety that makes it impossible to get out of bed in the morning and frequently manifests itself in disabilitating migraines. It is a serious malady that requires medical intervention, and not something to joke about.
Nevertheless, declaring an epidemic and recommending that all adults be anxiety-screened is psychological overreach. The WSJ story argues that such universal testing will simply make people more anxious than they already are.
Most people don't suffer from migraines and can get out of bed in the morning and face the world, while still worrying where their lives are leading and maybe even anxiously awaiting solutions to serious problems. Most people can cope reasonably well with anxious and worrisome moments. In fact, some psychologists tell us that a certain level of stress and challenge in our lives is what helps us survive as a species.
Some of the anxiety that causes sleepless nights is often the result of a lack of faith and a sense of abandonment; the feeling that everything is one big mess and it's up to us to set things right. But God has not abandoned us; we have abandoned him and declared Him non-existent. In such a world it's easy to lose all sense of hope and just give up.
"I don't like the man who doesn't sleep," God says in the poem "Sleep," by Charles Peguy. He then scolds mankind for being overly devoted to work and too concerned about the cares of the world:
"They look after their business very well during the day.
But they haven't enough confidence in Me to let Me look after it during the night.
"Put off until tomorrow those sobs that choke you
When you see today's unhappiness.
Those sobs that rise up and strangle you.
Put off until tomorrow those tears that fill your eyes and your head,
Flooding you, rolling down your cheeks.
Because between now and tomorrow, maybe I, God, will have passed by your way."*
I'm not suggesting that we ignore the stress and challenges of our world, or that there are not some things that we perhaps should worry or even be anxious about. But I am suggesting that we pause to realize that it's not all up to us; that it's not all in our hands. God is still there and He who created our world meant it when he said that it was good.
*(Charles Peguy, Basic Verities, Pantheon Books, 1948)