Manifest Tension

Now is the age of anxiety. W. H. Auden

The inability to cope with impermanence and the inability to tolerate ambiguity are two features endemic to anxiety. Furthermore, the realization that life is in perpetual flux can be a subconscious catalyst that cultivates complex defense mechanisms. Unpredictability is a silent harbinger that permeates the architecture of fear while ambiguity represents its shifting foundation.

Anxiety sometimes emerges from the existential dread of alienation. Frantic attempts to deny the oncoming vicissitudes of daily living is how humans psychologically postpone the inevitability of loss and its emotional ramifications. Ironically, the denial of transition and impermanence causes cognitive dissonance—thereby exacerbating anxiety. Consequently, each moment with its promise of potential is hijacked by the paralysis of apprehension.

It behooves us to remind ourselves that we are not just in this world, but that we are of this world. Human existence is inexorably tied to biological, social, and political spheres of influence. The philosopher Martin Heidegger referred to this phenomenon as “thrownness,” and it might be helpful to enhance this perspective by acknowledging the arbitrariness of our non-elective birthplace, epoch, and genetic inheritance.* There are plenty of accidents, but the crux of effective therapy is to develop resilience in spite of contextual situations gone awry. Conceding the fact that life is a stochastic mess may allow for an increase in uninhibited action while enhancing the quality of our experiences. Ultimately, it’s how we integrate tragic information that defines our future capacity to maintain emotional equilibrium. A person’s well-being can be measured in direct accordance with an ability to expect the unexpected.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “this too shall pass” if something unsatisfactory occurs, but “this too won’t last” is also a useful trope whenever contemplating prosperity. After all, the anxiety of maintaining success can sometimes be worse than the anxiety of recurring loss. In either case, squandering our reservoir of energy on equal-opportunity insecurity is like adding high voltage to an uncomfortable recliner.

* Geworfenheit (thrownness) is the combination of kinship, social problems, circumstance, and duty that one does not choose.