Existential philosophers and psychotherapist recognize that anxiety is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Despite its physical and emotional discomfort, anxiety should not be avoided but rather understood within its inter- and intrapersonal context. In short, anxiety informs us of our relationship to self, others, and the external world. Rather than focus on the removal of anxiety, it would be advantageous to examine the influential forces beneath our anxiety: What is anxiety trying to tell me? What has changed in my life? What remains unsettled (as a result of this change)? What have I lost? How much control do I really possess?
In our attempts to understand COVID19 (and navigate the challenges and restrictions that it has imposed on our life), we are grappling with the conflict between “what we [dont’] know and what we feel.” While this article may not specifically address existentialism, it is nevertheless an article that we can all relate to. I hope that this provides you with more insight into anxiety.
The pandemic that we are experiencing has led to thoughts and concerns that most of us have never faced. And while this article isn’t designed to deal with coronavirus specifically, it’s emergence and the impact on our lives has caused many of us to struggle with anxiety and stress that conflict with our desire to remain calm and rational. In fact, this two-brained feeling and the ability to control our thoughts and reactions is a very real struggle for many. You just have to look at the current state of the toilet paper isle to see the evidence of that.
Balancing Anxiety & Logic:
Anxiety is a response to challenging or frightening situations that are hard sometimes to define or that we’re anticipating. It can also arise from our subconscious when triggered and can be hard to identify. A certain amount of anxiety is actually useful in helping us prepare for upcoming events. Consider how you feel when you have a big test or presentation coming up. Anxiety can create a measure of pressure that pushes us to focus and prepare. Unfortunately, some of us allow anxiety to become a ruling factor in our lives. It then becomes hard to control and can lead to compounding health problems like depression.
Those of us who tend toward the more logical side of things may consider too much anxiety over circumstances beyond our control as an irrational response. But what happens when the anxiety stops seeming irrational? And when there’s very little you can do to plan or prepare in anticipation of what’s to come? For the test or presentation, you have some control, as you can study or practice. For other situations, however, there’s very little that can be done ahead of time.
With what feels like very little warning, we have all be thrown into a new reality. We’ve seen movies or read novels that portray things like we’re experiencing, but the idea that it could really happen seemed like a very remote possibility to most of us. The fact that we’re now living it has left many of us with a surreal feeling and unsure of what to do with our concerns and how we should view the world and our collective future. The anticipation of an uncertain outcome and future can create an untenable level of anxiety for many.
And there’s a dichotomy created when you wake in the morning and the sun’s shining, you can still have your coffee, go outside, go to the grocery store, and even get a drive through burger — everything seems somewhat normal and okay. In these moments you might forget to worry and feel anxious.
Then you remember, see the news, or any other reminder and your brain flips back into anxiety mode.
I have spoken to more and more people who are feeling overwhelmed by these conflicting feelings. Each morning they want to start their day and feel normal and they forget to worry — then they remember, then they forget, and on it goes. These oscillating emotions take their toll psychologically, and even physically, too.
Effects of This Uncommon Anxiety:
I refer to this as uncommon anxiety not because anxiety itself is uncommon, but because anxiety this widespread and at this level is uncommon. Many right now find themselves wrestling with not only anxiety, but also with a type of guilt. This guilt comes from feeling helpless and out of control. As humans we feel the need to prepare, help, fix, or plan, and when we can’t many of us feel guilt. It’s also not uncommon to experience guilt over feeling normal or happy or healthy when there’s something looming over us that’s worrisome. We can actually feel bad about not feeling worried enough. And so the switch flips again. Now you’re not only worried about what’s happening, but you’re worried about not taking it seriously enough and feeling guilty about not doing enough to help. And although these are normal feelings, none are healthy or helpful.
Physically speaking these levels of stress and anxiety can cause a rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones. These feelings can also spur us into unhealthy methods of coping, like stress eating, drinking, or self-medicating. These behaviors won’t help and will ultimately have detrimental results.
So, what can you do to reconcile this dual-brained feeling?
Coping with Uncommon Anxiety:
The first thing to realize is that you are far from alone. Anxiety and stress can be very isolating. Second, understand that what you are feeling is a normal response to a very abnormal situation, so there’s nothing wrong with you. That being said, there are a few things that you can be doing to keep yourself healthy and get through this in an emotionally and psychologically stable way.
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