July, 2020 – Upheavals of today threaten our psychological center. How can we hold a sense of wholeness when surrounded by reports of interlocking crises? References to “recovery” are applied to everything and mean nothing. We are not recovered. What would being recovered even be like? Alternative scenarios are presented but not realized. What should we anticipate?
Anticipatory anxiety is that dread we feel when something, worse if that something is unknown, is on its way. Our automatic FIGHT/FLIGHT reaction to threat is directionless or chaotic, so we can get stuck in the most debilitating state of all: FREEZE. Freeze is paralysis and helplessness.
We may have micro-level strategies for dealing with lesser threats like sold out cleaning products, exposure to disease at the grocery store, or disruption of more routines than we even knew we had. For the big and amorphous anxiety-creators of Covid19, unemployment, isolation, civil unrest, and a whole rearrangement of how things work, we have no solutions.
Where does this lead? Trauma. Trauma is not limited to a single catastrophic event.
Psychologists use the word “kindling” to describe the accumulation of micro-traumas that ultimately defeat our coping and result in major trauma. When our coping strategies are on overload, we lose our way. Our emotional GPS may show where we are, but does not give directions to safety. Being lost erodes self esteem and a core sense of self. In other words, the center does not hold.
Fortunately, kindling can be reduced or extinguished if caught soon enough. We feel more in control if we take comfort in doing what we can, and disengaging from inflammatory news feeds. In trauma our cognition is untrustworthy and our behavior may be erratic or worse.
All change brings stress and impending change brings the super-stress of anticipatory anxiety. Whatever one’s position about the changes that are going on now, the intensity of feelings is exhausting. What to do? Talk to people who listen. Don’t talk to people who only add layers of their own anxiety. In a relationship of empathy, the alarm bells grow fainter. We may unfreeze enough to take those important small steps that unfreeze our emotional centers so we aren’t the things that fall apart.
*William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming.