Anxiety: Today's Hottest Accessory?

culture family personal growth Oct 17, 2021

 I like accessories.

Bracelets, scarves, jackets, necklaces, and boots. Oh, and most definitely earrings. Whether hoops, drops, or studs, these pieces are wearable whether cutting a length of baseboard on a miter saw or savoring a sampling of finger sandwiches at a vintage tearoom. I’d even vote for gloves and hats to make a comeback. But there’s one trending item I’m eschewing: anxiety.

Don’t jump to hasty conclusions. (Doing so usually lands a person in a manure pile. Even after you get out, the stink’s still there.) I know anxiety is a genuine problem with many causes and contributing factors. Bodies don’t always function the way they’re designed to -- whether the result of genetics, injury, or lifestyle -- and medical aid is needed. Bugs and crashes plague minds just like they do computers, requiring intervention. Circumstances dogpile, leaving us gasping for air and crying, “Enough!” (Can anyone say, “Covid-19?!”) Then there’s life. It’s forever enticing us with another line of concerns. We barely wear one situation before new designs parade down the runway. We fold and store one season’s problems only to unpack new troubles.

I’m neither oblivious nor immune to the allure of anxiety. I’ve had as many reasons as most folks to make it a staple item in my emotional wardrobe. And I’ve worn it enough times to be familiar with its feel and know how to arrange it to make it appear attractive. But I’ve learned it's always limiting, often disastrous, and occasionally deadly. In the same manner as bell-bottom jeans and tube tops, it needs to go. Yet, like the “When I slim down” dress, it’s hard to part with. Why?

Anxiety gives you power.

As with clothing, it’s the outside we normally see. The debilitating patterns. The sense of helplessness. But it’s tagged with a label which carries incredible clout. Steve Cuss, in his podcast with Carey Nieuwhof ( stated, “The most anxious person in the room has the most power.” It’s true. Whether in a relationship, family, company, organization, or social gathering, everyone adjusts to accommodate the most distressed individual. It’s only a matter of how, not if. Some offer advice. Others create conversational diversions – “Hey, how about those ___!” Some exhaust themselves trying to avoid interacting. Others stage a circus act determined to magically transform the apprehension into positivity. Should anyone dare to shrug and say, “Sorry poor chap,” (which I’m not recommending), this soul is immediately considered birdbrained at best and heinous at worst. Whatever accommodations occur, one thing’s for certain:

Anxiety gets you noticed.

A colleague strides into the office with a smiling face sipping a smoothie, and no one wonders, “What’s up with her?” (Unless her normal is irritability and chugging a coffee.) A teacher strolls into the classroom with a welcoming grin and students don’t start whispering, “What do you think is bothering him?!” Pleasant eyes shine into the laptop camera on a video conference, and no one types into the chat box, “Hey, you okay?” Some wear anxiety like a pair of gleaming cherry-red stilettos – everybody can see them coming a mile away. Others prefer the shabby drab-gray overcoat approach, slouching in the corner, remaining conspicuously quiet. Non-participation can be a great way to get noticed. Others are oblivious to their anxiety, carrying it like a rogue piece of toilet paper latched onto a backside, creating awkwardness for everyone around.

Anxiety grows in groups.

Everyone has something weighing on them. It’s only what and how heavy that makes the difference. Being around others who are distressed reminds us, even imperceptibly, of our own concerns. It’s like a watch – an accessory for all, no matter the age, occupation, marital status, social standing, or gender. We don’t want others minimizing, ignoring, or scorning our cares, so we (hopefully) seek to be compassionate. Yet empathy is so easily confused with agreement. In order to come alongside a suffering soul, we purchase a matching attitude because:

Anxiety is socially acceptable.

Be too confident, and you’re arrogant. Too optimistic, and you’re naïve. Too focused, and you’re obsessed. Announce to people, “I’m just an upbeat person. I can’t help it,” and you’ll be labeled with words I won’t write here. But replace “upbeat person” with “worrier,” and you’ll have instant sympathy and perhaps immediate companions.

Lest you think I am one of those find-the-silver-lining-in-every-cloud kind of people, let me assure you this is not my default thinking. Emily Dickinson’s charming poem, “Hope is the thing with feathers” inspires tender hearts with its imagery of a lark crooning its cheery tune no matter the circumstances. Whether it’s my personality or farm upbringing or a combination of both, I can’t say, but my mind adds, “Yeah, until a hawk swoops down and has it for dinner.” I don’t repeatedly chuck angst because it’s easy, but because:

Anxiety is costly.

The only thing it buys is more of itself. Life, like laundry, tosses, agitates, and spins us until we’re dizzy. It can dry us out. Worry doesn’t hold up well in the wash. What does? Faith, hope, and love. These three traits can seem so trite. So inept. So passe. Like someone suggesting strappy high-heeled sandals for a hike. Beautiful, but hardly suitable for the rigors of a forest trail. Yet it is exactly these three garments which dress us for any of life’s occasions.

One of the Bible’s most sobering stories is when the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. They’d observed God’s power in Egypt through ten astonishing events. As they desert-trekked, they benefitted from spectacular miracles: water gushed from a rock; a cloud hovered to avert daytime sunstroke; a pillar of fire prevented death by freezing at night; food appeared outside their tent flaps daily -- no credit card necessary. Every time they encountered a frightening situation, God showed not just his power but his kindness toward them. You’d think they would have learned. But,

Anxiety can excuse immaturity.

Instead of wrestling through their emotions and bringing their worst-case scenario thoughts to God with an attitude of expectancy, they remained like children. We’re hungry! We’re thirsty! We’re going to die! Are we there yet? (Okay, not sure about this one.) It wasn’t the expression of their needs which angered God. It was the absence of hope in his goodness and faith in his love. Finally, God – who had judged and forgiven the forging and worshipping of the golden calf -- had enough. He announced their refusal to deal with their jitters and fears in a mature manner would cost them. And it did. Forty years of lost opportunities. Forty years of lost growth. Forty years of lost accomplishments. God knew:

Anxiety, while not inescapable, is exchangeable.

We’ll never be care-free on this earth. We can’t prevent fear, nervousness, panic, concern, apprehension, restlessness, dread, uncertainty, foreboding, goose bumps, the willies, or heebie-jeebies. But we can determine, as God’s blessing requires and love empowers, to refuse to wear what will eventually wear us out.

The return process isn’t easy. It takes repeated calls to the Help Desk and waiting patiently on hold until help shows up. It requires initiative. Nobody shows up and asks, “Would you like to swap that easy-to-slide-into mindset for this one you’ve got to pull, twist, and shimmy your way into?” Doing so means being willing to stand out from the crowd. In a world wearing stress like it’s obligatory trendy attire, remember:

Anxiety may be fashionable, but it’s never flattering.

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