By Arabella Oz

With the arrival of fall, a new melody of anxiety drifts in. What is it? Actually, the word anxiety has grown obsolete in the world of 2020—covering too much ground to be useful. There’s the kind attached to the fear of getting the virus, or maybe more specifically, getting a loved one sick. We have the agitated ruminations about the election, or a continually declining trust in our systems of leadership. And then the amorphous dread, murmuring underneath your day like an idle engine—you only know it’s there because you haven’t released a full exhale in hours.

The anxiety that I’m noticing show up now is a unique kind of stamina dread. A resounding, “how much more of this can I take?” We figured out how to get through lockdown—there was the novelty of it, the connectivity of a shared experience, the conflicting feelings of relief at a simplified way of life, the imagined deadline of summer. Summer came, summer left. And now a despairing question builds, growing louder and more suffocating: What next?

What next? Our mind has nothing to latch on to. The ground we had built our houses on has been challenged in countless ways. We are left slipping into an unclear future, untethered and exposed.

For me, this new wave of anxiety is hard to name because it’s agonizing to sit in. We do almost anything to push past it. Maybe for you, scrolling through social media or the news until sunrise provides some relief. Or you’re drinking or smoking weed every day. Perhaps your distraction is socially sanctioned—exercising more, taking on extra projects at work, helping others. For me, it shows up in how I eat: the faster the better, while I watch something mindless on the closest screen available. I come up from a meal hunched over and breathless. 

So this is an invitation to stop and ask yourself, what am I feeling? If the answer is anxious, try to get more specific. What are the exact words going through your head, and what are your go-to ways of drowning it out? All we might have control over right now is our ability to drop into what we’re actually experiencing. This might sound like the simplest task, or the most terrifying. One of the reasons it’s hard to resolve anxiety is because we avoid feeling it head on, and for good reason. Of course it’s uncomfortable to sit in discomfort, and maybe we don’t feel like we have the tools to go there. Go slo. Start small. Be gentle.

We’re being pushed into an unprecedented era of not knowing. It seems to grow more intense with each passing month. But once you notice the ways you’re on autopilot, you’ve created a little space, and from there you might see things differently. Maybe 2020 can wake us up to the habitual ways we escape reality, so that whatever is next, we can experience in all of its newness, more engaged than ever before.

Arabella Oz is a resident mental health counselor at The Soho Center for Mental Health and Wellness. She received her MA in Mental Health and Wellness Counseling from NYU, and her BA in Film Studies from Columbia University. In her free time she writes stories, poems, and think pieces.

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