Anxiety and Death, Part 2

Anxiety and Death,

Part 2

Therefore, do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we wear?” …indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Matthew 6:31-32

While I do not wish to pile more guilt or shame onto the already overburdened shoulders of my anxious brothers and sisters, I believe the root of anxiety is a lack of faith. I do not blame those suffering from anxiety for this deficiency, however. Rather, I believe the root causes of anxiety are found in relatively recent social and cultural phenomenon that victimize large swaths of the population. And as I mentioned last week, the percentage of the population suffering from anxiety has increased significantly in the current generation. It is almost the norm today. What sorts of changes have occurred over the past 30 or so years that might contribute to this lack of faith and loss of trust?

Allow me to clarify what I mean by a lack of faith. Our fears of possible negative events in the future, which account for the lion’s share of anxious thoughts, are rooted in the concern that something beyond our ability to handle or endure is on a near horizon. In other words, because we cannot imagine having the resources to deal with this devastating catastrophe were it to happen now, those necessary resources will not be there for us in the future either. Such reasoning is faulty on several fronts. First, we naturally tend to project worst-case-scenarios, which seldom actually happen. Second, because the crisis is only imaginary at the point of worry, we cannot know what resources will be required or that are even available to us. We enter a vicious cycle of pointless anxiety about how we will handle something that probably will never happen. The reason I label this a lack of faith is because all of us who have lived beyond adolescence should know that whatever we truly need to get through any given moment of crisis is always provided, often in ways we could not have imagined. It may seem a miraculous occurrence, but it is how the universe is structured and is trustworthy. Wherever there is a need, a way opens. Finally, there is no way to prepare for anything that might happen in the future, but we can remember that things always work out in time. We know this intellectually, but convincing our worried mind otherwise is difficult.

There are several recent societal shifts that may be at the heart of our troubling uptick in anxiety, and most have to do with media – the content of the media itself and our unimpeded access to it. Television, movies, books, and social media posts all promote or imply a mostly unattainable life and lifestyle. Homes are clean and orderly. Romance lasts forever in marriages. Relationships are strong, reliable, and stable. One’s physical health is good. Although the media does illustrate challenges on the road to the perfect life, the perfect life is almost always attained – which is never the case in real life. Those of us attending to these types of media wonder, “What is wrong with me that my house, my marriage, and my relationships do not look like that?” Even when we compare ourselves to our neighbors or friends, our life does not measure up. Of course, even with close friends we only witness small slices of their total life experiences.

The national news media is particularly toxic. We have developed a 24/7 news cycle over the past generation that has addicted, enthralled, and terrified people of all ages and backgrounds. Most national news shows are increasingly geared more toward entertainment and shock-value – traits that sell advertising – than to providing information. Except for some local news shows and local newspapers, the “information” is always presented with a strong bias – a bias in what is told, how it is told, who tells it, and the conclusions drawn from the biased views of those determining what is newsworthy. We gravitate toward those news sources whose biases align with our own, so our minds are never expanded, let alone changed or informed, except on the most superficial of levels. Our personal biases are simply reinforced, as is our belief that there are crazy people out there determined to destroy everything good in our world as we know it. And our anxiety soars along with the entrenched certainty that our view is the only correct one.

These are among the factors I believe are contributing to the increase in overall anxiety in our world today. I will consider what is a well-hidden, yet key systemic cause – our emphasis on science and accompanying deemphasis on spirituality – next week.

This is the 44rd in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

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