Three different people, all of whom I respect, have recently said something to me like, “All you ever talk about is anxiety.” To which I’ve responded with something like, “Well, of course. Everything about mental health and spirituality is ultimately about anxiety, so what else would I talk about?”
1. Mentally and spiritually healthy people are generally hopeful, content, thoughtful, relational, and loving. The ultimate indicator of maturity from a Christian standpoint is sacrificial love (which, by the way, does not mean being a doormat).
2. However, life constantly confronts us with various challenges that generate anxiety and challenge our capacity to be loving.
3. When we are generally “healthy,” we are able to receive anxiety as a warning sign that something is going on that needs attention. We are able to step back, realistically assess the situation, choose a reasonable course of action, and follow through. When I’m in a good place, I see the anxiety as MY responsibility, and do not expect others to manage it for me. I might even see the anxiety as a GIFT that reveals pockets of immaturity in me that need attention.
4. Sometimes a situation generates more anxiety than a person can manage. This creates, by definition, a “crisis.” When we are in crisis mode we become reactive, losing the ability to think creatively about our circumstances.
5. When we are in crisis, and become reactive, we tend to engage in short term strategies that might temporarily alleviate the anxiety, but are rarely effective in the long run (unless you happen to be an alligator) These reactive responses include things like attacking, running, blaming, giving in, etc…
6. In any crisis, therefore, it is imperative that we get the help we need to manage the most pressing aspects of our anxiety in order to not make our situation worse (if I respond to my wife leaving me by “medicating” myself with several 12 packes of Corona, and then wreck my car, I’ve not exactly elevated my situation).
7. Some people, however, maintain a chronic level of anxiety that virtually keeps them in a state of reactivity 24/7. This chronic anxiety may come from any number of sources, but, without support, we usually develop chronically life-limiting stragies that allow us to cope with the anxiety just well enough to get through the day. (Many marriages devolve into a connection that is little more than an exercise in reactive anxiety management.)
8. Twenty-plus years of experience as a therapist, along with my own stumbling attempts to understand and cope with the challenges of my life, have convinced me that we will not move from the ditch of ineffective coping strategies back on to the road towards maturity unless we understand and address our anxiety.
There’s so much more to say on the subject, but I think this summary captures the gist.
What do YOU think? Am I being too simplistic or reductionistic?
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