Anxiety is the feeling of dread, agitation, and fear. It is an innate physiological response to the perception of danger. The key to integrating anxiety is to understand the nature of the threat causing emotional turbulence.
Covid-19 conjures mercurial anxieties. It poses genuine danger to our physical and mental wellbeing. It disrupts our social reality. And it derails the economy. The new normal it imposes includes self-isolation, physical distancing, and the necessity of wearing masks. Our normal patterns of interaction and therefore expectations about how to live have been fundamentally altered.
Sometimes anxiety is incited by imagined fear. At other times it caused by a genuine threat to our safety and wellbeing. Regardless of its source, anxiety is an agile shapeshifter conjuring a toxic confluence of emotions that blur the real with the imaginary. In the grip of anxiety, we struggle to distinguish fact from fiction.
Often, anxiety expresses itself as obsessive worry about a future that never happens.
One emerging and frightening reality of Covid-19 is that it is more than a respiratory disease. In the BBC article, “How Covid-19 Can Damage the Brain” (June 23, 2020), scientists note that roughly 50% of patients diagnosed with Sars-CoV-2 have experienced neurological problems. They also note in the article that it can attack “nearly any organ on the body” including the heart, liver, and kidneys. Some of these problems may become lifelong. The impact and long-term effects of Covid-19 are, obviously, not fully understood.
Anxiety is the correct response to the paragraph above. This is a disease that should cause fear, and it is our response to that fear that matters most.
Covid-19 reminds us that a virus can suddenly emerge, disrupt our lifestyle, and impose strange forms of emotional turbulence with remarkable speed and agility. Sadly, it can also cause death, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.
Anxiety is not a form of weakness, it is a normal response to vulnerability. Sometimes anxiety is helpful and the failure to attend to it is problematic. With respect to Covid-19, the attempt to ignore anxiety and proceed with life as usual favors the pathogen.
Ignorance often cowers behind a flimsy guise of courage.
Anxiety is a conversation with fear, not a battle with a mercurial enemy within. Feelings do not cause harm, but our reaction to them can. The discipline of anxiety is to lean into it, feel it, and clarify the toxic ruminations that hijack the mind. Understanding, not avoiding, the workings of anxiety makes relief possible.
Relief, however, is not the absence of anxiety; it is the acceptance and integration of it.
Awareness is a valuable resource. Anxiety is an unwelcome but wise council. It is a means to clarify the fears lurking within. To hold a conversation anxiety is to engage strive to accept seek advice within distressing emotions.
Within our anxieties are many discoveries waiting to reveal themselves.
The experience of anxiety is not a problem, it is an innate human response. However, the cause of our anxiety may be real, imaginary, or, more often, a combination of fact and fiction. What we think we immediately feel, even if our thoughts and misguided. Part of the internal work required is to discern the real from the imaginary and expose how our own thought processes are the source of our suffering.
Covid-19 causes profound levels of uncertainty, pain, and suffering. It’s lines of force are physical, mental, social, and spiritual. This is a reality from which there is no escape. Sometimes, we are forced to confront our vulnerabilities and the impermanence of life.
However, there are the hopeful questions that arise from living in the midst of a pandemic. Can we approach our individual and collective anxieties as a source of wisdom? Is there a way in which the tragedy of Covid-19 can become a source of enduring social evolution? Can the pandemic inspire a transformation in our relationship with nature? Can we finally embrace a philosophy of living in which the value of life, all forms of life, are more important than material greed?
Most importantly, can Covid-19 help us to save ourselves from ourselves?