How much more can we take? A mass shooting in Las Vegas. Puerto Rico continues to reel in the wake of yet another devastating hurricane. Mexico City remains in a state of earthquake induced decimation — families left homeless and innocent lives taken. Wars and rumors of wars rumble in North Korea, threatening our allies and our homeland. And when we turn to our personal lives, it doesn't seem much better: financial stress, health crises and relational strife.
Do you ever just feel worn out? Ready to check out, you turn off the TV, shut down your phone, pull the blanket over your head and hope it will go away by morning?
What you're feeling has a name: chronic anxiety. It's a feeling of dread, an edginess, a cold wind that won't stop howling. And even when the storms abate, there is a sense that the next one is coming. Always ... coming. Sunny days are just an interlude. You can't relax. All peace is temporary, short term. Anxiety is a thief, taking our sleep, our energy, our well-being and our peace.
Chances are you or someone you know seriously struggles with anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are reaching epidemic proportions. In a given year more than 50 million Americans will feel the effects of a panic attack, phobias, or other anxiety disorders. The United States is now the most anxious nation in the world. Congratulations to us! The land of the stars and stripes has become the country of stress and strife.
Why? What is the cause or our anxiety?
Certainly the onslaught of natural disasters, global tensions and personal challenges is real. You or someone you know is facing foreclosure, fighting cancer or mucking out their home decimated by a flood.
And we have to navigate our lives awash in a constant sea of adrenaline. Every few seconds changes and new threats are imported into our lives thanks to smart phones, TVs and computer screens. In our grandparents' generation news of an earthquake in Nepal would reach around the world some days or weeks later. In our parent's day the nightly news communicated the disaster. Now it is a matter of minutes or even seconds. We've barely processed one crisis before we hear of another.
We are experiencing the exhaustion that comes with a life steeped in turmoil and chaos. And this leads to sagging compassion ("I can't give any more to Salvation Army") and personal hopelessness ("If this world's as good as it gets, it's just not that good.")
Where can we turn? First of all, don't beat yourself up. Don't feel anxious about being anxious. We all worry at times. Even Jesus experienced anxiety. The night before his crucifixion, he was filled with dread. I think we can take our cue from him. When Jesus felt anxious he turned to prayer.
When your anxiety threatens to overwhelm you, take these steps:
Pray immediately. Don't stew over the problems that are besetting you or your neighbor. Ask God for help as soon as you identify a need.
Pray specifically. When we boil our concerns down to a specific request, they become right-sized. Vague threats loom larger than concrete challenges.
Pray for and with others. When we consider the problems of others and enlist their help with ours, our concerns become more manageable.
Pray with thanksgiving. Anxiety and gratitude cannot occupy the same space. When we catalog what are thankful for, our list of challenges grows less powerful.
Anxiety comes with life, my friend, but it doesn't have to dominate your life. The path to peace is paved with prayer. Let's invite God to reframe the way we face our fears and win the war on worry. With his help, we can find calm in a chaotic world.