A major trigger for anxiety is feeling helpless. The hostage situation on Monday 15th December 2014, in Sydney, was the kind of event that exacerbates feelings of anxiety and depression.
Differing reactions to a tragedy
After the hostage taking, many of my clients spent their sessions talking about the incident. Each one had a different reaction and way of coping with the news. One common reaction was denial: “This can’t be happening in Sydney, Sydney is a safe city”.
Another common reaction was the fight/flight reaction. Either the client wanted to take up arms and drive every last suspected terrorist out of Australia or the client wanted to flee to a safer place.
Olga’s* assertion that “It could have been prevented” highlighted the “cause and effect reaction”. In Olga’s mind, blame for the tragedy could easily be placed at the door of the court system and the government. She said that the court should not have released the kidnapper on bail, they should have realised that he was a threat and kept him locked up. She also blamed the Australian government for being “too democratic” and allowing asylum seekers in.
Cause and effect reaction
Attributing a cause to every event is the way a child feels safe. If every tragedy can be explained away, then in the child’s mind future tragedies can be prevented by targeting the root cause. Also, a world that makes sense to us, feels safer.
Adults who are evolved emotionally know that contrary to the way children think, life is full of ambiguity and uncertainty. Many occurrences never make sense and appear to be unfair. Bad things happen to good people.
Anxiety is the leading mental issue today with 1 in 4 people being affected. One contributing factor to anxiety is the fact that a majority of people believe that bad things happen randomly; the world makes no sense; the world is a bad place; plus there is no remedy.
Man’s search for meaning
At times like these, finding meaning is one of the most effective ways of reducing anxiety and depression. Victor Frankl developed Logotherapy in WW2 to help people find meaning in tragedy.
Positive psychology, which studies happiness, has found that having meaning and purpose is a major contributor to personal happiness.
Helpful suggestions to reduce symptoms of anxiety
- Read Victor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ to understand the necessity of having meaning in order to cope with adversity.
- Martin Seligman’s book (or website) on Authentic Happiness has information on meaning, types of meaning and how it will increase your happiness. Accessing this knowledge will help you lower your anxiety.
- All faiths have explanations about the world and how God runs it. In times of crisis most people turn to God. As the saying goes “There are no atheists in foxholes”. Turning to God, praying and looking for spiritual reasons will help you to feel more secure in the world thereby lowering your anxiety levels. Whatever your faith or propensity, find a belief system that will buoy you up.
In sum, trying to find rational explanations for tragedy, crises, and loss is usually impossible. Finding meaning will go a long way to reducing your stress, anxiety and depression.
* Not her real name