The Age of Anxiety: Are You Tough Enough to Handle the Pandemic?
COVID-19 and government responses to it have created a high level of uncertainty. Will I get the virus? Will I lose my job (or my business)? Will my retirement savings ever go back up?
We like uncertainty when we are reading a novel or playing a board game. When the stakes are high, uncertainty is unpleasant.
Uncertainty about the future makes it hard to plan and hard to enjoy the present. We lose some of our comforting expectations. We may doubt our ability to adjust. Uncertainty is the soil in which anxiety grows. And anxiety can be as contagious as COVID-19, leading us to an Age of Anxiety
Some individuals cope with COVID anxiety by assuming everything will turn out fine: Smart people in white coats will develop a vaccine, we all will be safe, and life will return to normal.
There is a risk in assuming so much. If the future does not turn out so nicely, a person might be unprepared practically and emotionally for what actually happens.
My coping involves having hope for better days ahead. I do not have enough financial confidence to buy into the stock market right now, but tomorrow is another day. I balance hope with acceptance that life can take ugly turns. Things do not always go the way we want.
The ancient Stoics said wanting something very much is the road to unhappiness. Buddhists say about the same thing. Count me in for that point of view. Stoics would not be a lot of fun at a party, but they were good at thinking about life.
I don’t mean to describe myself as a Stoic. When I thought a few years ago about volunteering to serve as a psychologist for Doctors Without Borders, I decided that I am not tough enough. Sleeping on the ground would make my back ache. I would get an exotic disease.
Challenges like the current crisis may crush us or toughen us. Every time I wash my hands like a surgeon, every day when I work at home, every week when I wear my N95 mask to the grocery store, I lean toward the toughening outcome.
I need not be tough to survive; I just need to be tough enough, like my ancestors, who adjusted to countless crises and survived to leave their genes to me.
You there: Are you tough enough to ride out the current uncertainty?