Anxiety and Global Events

Important considerations, including for people who don’t have anxiety

One of the unique characteristics of the modern human experience is how we handle troubling global events, physically, mentally, and emotionally. With COVID-19 affecting people the world over, this aspect of life has been on prominent display in recent weeks.

Consider the events of September 11th 2001, the Kennedy assassination, World War II, World War I; the list goes on. Depending on individual perspectives, events like the 2008 financial crisis or the 1993 World Trade Center bombing may have relatively less or more impact on the lives of certain people. Either way, all of these examples share a common feature: being widely publicized and therefore mentally and emotionally impacting millions of people.

In contrast to those examples, there are global phenomena that can produce varying amounts of positive effects for millions of people. The Olympics Games, massive fundraising efforts to benefit the needy, and viral videos, images, and memes are all such examples. Those each deserve their own consideration and contemplation, but there isn’t evidence to support the idea that one can meme themselves to happiness and emotional stability.

Another increasingly important consideration is the influence of modern communication technology in these situations. While tens of millions of people died in World War I, the average person saw few photographs of the carnage that was occurring. Video technology and distribution were too limited and do not compare to the contemporaneous and high quality video that we get inundated with today.

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

During traumatic events, our individual responses vary widely but share certain underlying characteristics and patterns. One common theme is the element of fear, especially fear of the unknown. Will this have a direct effect on me? Will we go to war? Will we be able to pay our bills? What if I get sick?

In times of crisis, strong leadership implements a blend of optimism, honesty, and decisiveness. Public leaders can and often do provide a calming and reassuring presence that assuages some, but not all of these concerns.

Another fundamental theme in these situations is our social connectivity, a defining trait of the human experience. The details of how we socialize constitute the concept of culture, contribute to our sense of personal identity, and are nearly as critical to our survival as procreation.

When unexpected and dramatic events occur around the world, they change how we socialize. One is exposed to the crisis through friends, family, and the media. Even if this is the only wide-ranging social consequence, it can still be quite significant for many people.

The prevalence of various anxiety disorders is high; per the National Institute of Mental Health, about 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year and around 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, and this data was collected before the current coronavirus pandemic. When applied to the 2019 estimated U.S. population, approximately 62 million and 102 million people are affected by these conditions, respectively.

There’s a spectrum of anxiety disorders and some are not related to global events or our responses to them. Still, even a conservative estimate would conclude that millions of Americans are suffering from underlying anxiety issues that are exacerbated by such events.

Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

Addressing these issues requires a mix of awareness, understanding, and compassion. We must educate ourselves, care for our loved ones, and help others around us do the same.

People experiencing difficulty are their own best advocates and can receive the best help when they actively communicate their troubles and needs to their loved ones. Too often, what is left unsaid leads to hopes dashed and hurt feelings.

There is no shame in asking a close friend or family member for a little help. In these strange times, that help may appear equally strange. For example, one person may be soothed by talking through the troubling information with somebody while another person may be upset by that and soothed by discussing any other topic. The keys are to acknowledge and respectfully communicate our needs and be caring and supportive for our loved ones.

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

While many other events arguably altered the course of history, few if any compare to the duration and pervasiveness of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lock down is unprecedented; we’ve endured everything from a civil war to industrial and economic collapses to armed insurgencies, but not yet this.

The effects are both individual and social; they feed off of each other in an unhealthy and sometimes vicious cycle. The superficial aspects vary but the underlying situation is typically anxiety manifested in fear that’s echoed and reflected in mass media. Our biases, which steer our journey to seek out additional information, further substantiate our concerns and amplify our fears.

Awareness is good and it is advisable to take precautions against catching COVID-19 as we would for any risk in our day-to-day lives (e.g. crossing the street). In a physical sense, the guidance of medical professionals should suffice to keep you safe. In the event that you do become sick, there is a system to provide care and the statistical probability for recovery is high.

Regardless of some reassuring words, the situation is still jarring and deeply unfamiliar. Even as we lurch towards reopening society, there is a palpable sense that we will not be returning to our previous normal before the pandemic.

Fear and anxiety are not inherently bad; they stem from survival mechanisms that evolved over countless generations. Fear or anxiety that impact quality of life is cause for seeking help. After recognizing that there may be a problem, discussing it with a loved one (or professional) can lead towards resolution.



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Joel Gallant

Joel Gallant

Pondering the conceptual intersections of mental health, technology, and modern society. More at