Keep a sense of perspective: The danger of anxiety

Keep a sense of perspective: The danger of anxiety
The Rev. Ian Markham (Photo/Virginia Theological Seminary)

By Rev. Ian Markham

As we approach the midterm elections, there is a palpable sense of anxiety in the air. The political divide runs deep. Add to this mix, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the veiled threats of the use of a tactical battlefield nuclear weapon, we wonder whether Alexandria could be at risk given our proximity to an obvious nuclear target called Washington, D.C. We also find ourselves living with high inflation, high gas prices and continuing problems with supply chains.

Anxiety can destroy the moment we are living in. It can lead to excessive drinking and eating. It can unsettle close relationships with those we love. And, in the end, it is not helpful. It was Jesus who asked the pointed question: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) All worry does is corrode the moment we are living in. Worry does not improve the situation; worry does not solve the problem. Instead, all it does is exacerbate the problem.

Prophets of doom do play an important role. Fortunately, they are often wrong; the United States has faced many challenges and survived them. But their warnings can be part of the reason why things improve. Their analysis invites a response: we need to become more civil in our political discourse; we need to be alert to nuclear escalation; and we need firm action to bring inflation under control.

But perspective is also important. We need to pause and recognize the progress that we are making. From the minor miracles of every day – car drivers still wait dutifully behind the school bus as children are dropped off in their neighborhoods – to countless people volunteering at food kitchens, there is much to affirm. Plenty of Americans are being very generous with their gifts to help hurricane victims in Florida; and more bipartisan legislation has gone through the Congress in the last few years than happened for at least a decade.

Comparison is also a tool to build perspective. Granted, we have plenty of problems but compared to many countries of the world one can expect a life of relative calm, to earn a living and exercise your religion without interference. You can still say and believe what you like and gather with others who share those beliefs. Sadly, there are plenty of countries in the world where that is not the case.

Living with a sense of perspective does not mean that one is indifferent to the challenges we face. There are always challenges; and the current set of challenges are serious. But the sense of perspective means that we carry our anxiety more gently; we don’t allow ourselves to get overly preoccupied; and we can still have evenings with family and friends where we relax and have fun.

So, let us keep a sense of perspective. Let us acknowledge the seriousness of the problems but let us not allow our lives to be dominated by a destructive sense of anxiety that damages the precious moment that we have been given.

The writer is dean of Virginia Theological Seminary.