Catholic Values Column: An antidote to anxiety

Jared Johnson
Catholic Values Columnist

Anxiety is, of course, a psychological issue, and often its antidote requires a psychological solution. This includes all its attendant problems: depression, self-hatred, self-consciousness and so forth.

Like any bodily issue, however, psychological disorders do harm to our souls; our intellect, expressed materially by the brain, is meant to be one of the primary points of contact between our souls and the world. A troubled psyche will create a troubled soul.

Many of us here at FUS, including myself, struggle with mental health. There are so many more who, without a relationship with God, struggle alone.

We have a responsibility to evangelize towards this ever-growing lack in the world. To do this, we have to recognize and act upon the spiritual factors that stem from and exacerbate our insecurities. So, what is that spiritual effect? More than anything else in my experience, it is the subtle rise of pride and vanity.

Now, I recognize how sensitive that is, attaching a deadly sin to an experience like deep-seated anxiety. You can work to overcome a vice, but there is no choice in how anxiety affects you; you simply have to endure it.

Nonetheless, while it is true that you can’t shut off your mind and your emotions, you have to begin dealing with anxieties by rejecting the dangerous temptation to believe that, because you have no control over your mental and emotional state, you bear no moral responsibility for how you cope.

The secular world has fallen right into that trap. How much trendy “self-care” promises peace of mind and self-acceptance — via selfishness, unkindness and even impurity? How much of this self-care is considered completely valid because it’s not your fault you’re burdened with anxiety, and however you deal with it is OK?

The Lord is infinitely merciful, but mercy is a gift; it cannot be presumed. It has to be sought with repentance — which requires you to be honest about your faults.

And, once again, one of the overarching faults I have found within myself when examining my insecurities is pride.

How so? Isn’t pride too much thought of one’s self-worth, while anxiety indicates far too little? Like all sins, pride is doubled-edged. Reduced to a basic definition, pride can be described as inordinate care for the self.

Whether that means a person is too self-absorbed or self-loathing doesn’t matter: as long as you are compelled to put yourself at the center of your universe, a strain of pride is present. But what does this look like in someone struggling with anxiety?

Speaking from my greatest moments of anxiety, insecurities make everything feel as if all eyes are on you, every action scrutinized; you live afraid that the dreaded “everyone else” is judging you, sneering at you. Thus, you either isolate yourself from the world and shut people out or go out seeking constant validation. I’ve done both.

Pride may afflict the former by inspiring a sense of condescending defiance: the world is awful, so I’ll remove myself from it. Your seclusion is meant as a middle finger to society. This, however, depends on the person. Periods of seclusion can be helpful as you look for peace.

But the latter always generates a subtle vanity: you scrutinize everything about yourself the way you presume “everyone else” does, carefully curating your words and behavior to appeal to “them.”

When you reveal your struggles, it is mainly to soak in all the empathy and affirmation people are obliged to give you. You can become incredibly judgmental, self-righteous or entitled to that empathy, because it’s not your fault you’re struggling, and everyone must affirm your presence, or else.

Your universe hinges on your place in it. If other people don’t constantly affirm your value, you lose it — because if self-worth doesn’t come from my peers or mentors or whoever, where else would it come from?

These questions can only be answered once you’ve identified and rejected pride, and you begin the difficult task of humility.

For someone struggling with self-worth, the Litany of Humility is one of the hardest prayers of all time, but it is ultimately the most freeing. The entire point is to direct your desires away from that hunger for affirmation, and back towards the true source of all worth, Christ.

Humility empties one of care about the self, generating instead care for the Lord. It is that care that forges a connection with heaven. If you know you are accepted by Jesus Christ, you have access to the same confidence that made the martyrs, and can walk without fear of what “everyone else” thinks of you.

Of course, every facet of the person — physical, emotional and mental — must be addressed alongside the spiritual. But it is the spiritual battle that matters most, and fighting that battle enables you to conquer all the others.