As Ken Burns’ marvelous eight-part documentary “Country Music” was airing recently on KET, my wife Liz sent me a link to a podcast, “The Tim Ferriss Show,” that featured a lengthy interview with Burns.
Among other things, Burns talked in the interview about his struggle with serious anxiety, and the three laws he employs to overcome it.
This caught my attention, because a strain of disabling anxiety has run through my family for generations, and I’ve had to battle it myself from time to time.
I caught myself amening Burns aloud as I drove down the interstate listening to the podcast.
Oddly enough, his three laws were nearly word-for-word what I’ve preached on the subject to friends, family and myself when dread and worry threaten to derail us.
The similarity between his observations and mine was so heartening I thought I’d pass along my own annotated version to you, with appropriate props to Burns, the best documentary filmmaker ever.
1. This will pass
As I frequently say, good times don’t last forever, but, thank God, neither do bad times. Nothing in this world is permanent.
Whatever you’re fretting about — whatever deadline is looming, whatever payment must be tendered, whatever person has his nose out of joint at you — time is your friend. In a year, or 20 years, or 500 years, it won’t matter a whit. No one, including you, will long remember this.
Truth be known, it probably doesn’t matter nearly as much right now as you think it does.
There’s way more to your life, both in the past and yet to come, than this fearsome problem plaguing you at the moment.
You’re an eternal being in a momentary bind.
2. Get help from others
As the New Testament tells us, we can roll our burdens onto God, because he cares. Say, “Lord, since I can’t fix this, I’m giving it to you. And since you have it now, I refuse to worry about it anymore.”
We can also turn to other people. If we hold our fears inside, they fester. They become overwhelming.
Find a good friend or a professional counselor or a kind pastor, someone willing to listen and reliable enough to keep what you say confidential. Talk through your anxiety.
If you do, three things might happen.
First, you’ll notice that as you speak your fear aloud, it diminishes. Just airing it magically makes it feel manageable. I don’t know why this is the case, but it is.
Second, quite often you’ll discover a kindred soul. You’ll learn that the thing making you anxious has at some point made the person you’re talking with anxious, too.
Third, you may find you’ve given the other person permission to confess fears she’s never voiced to anyone else. Your honesty liberates her to be honest. Lifting your burden helps lift hers. Honesty is contagious. And healthy.
You’ll soon see that you aren’t terribly unique in your frailty. Almost everybody is anxious. It’s comforting to know you’re not the only one.
3. Be kind to yourself
Most of us take way too much credit when life is working out well for us — and too much blame when life goes south.
Frankly, much of what happens, good or bad, is beyond our control. As John Prine put it, it’s a big old goofy world.
Have you made mistakes? Yes you have. Will you make more mistakes? Yes you will. Will the world eventually treat you unjustly? You can bank on it. Might you suffer unforeseen pain? Almost certainly.
That’s called the human condition.
But you don’t have to become a slave to your bushel-basketful of woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. Neither do you have to live as a slave to a basketful of what ifs: What if the stock market crashes? What if my daughter marries that birdbrain she’s seeing now? What if global warming floods my house 10 years from now?
Instead, make amends where you can. Take reasonable precautions.
Then remember that whatever you’ve done, or whatever is to come, God still loves you now and he’ll love you the rest of the way, too. You’re not perfect, but neither is anyone else. We’re all just muddling along, doing the best we can with what we have.
Today is likely not all that terrible, if you really consider it. You’ve got enough to eat, and a roof over your head, and clothes to wear, and no foreign army or secret police force is battering down your door.
Heck, you’re faring better than much of the world. Cut yourself a break. Enjoy this moment instead of borrowing trouble from the past or the future.