We must be motivated to act during stressful times

Anxiety is inevitable for many, but apathy is a choice for some


People are losing interest in challenging themselves.

It might be because we live in the age of anxiety. It’s estimated by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America that approximately 1 in 5 individuals over the age of 18 suffer from anxiety disorders. By those numbers, anyone with more than five friends should be hard-pressed to deny that anxiety, like depression, is running rampant in today’s society.

Nihilism, the belief that nothing matters, can go hand in hand with anxiety. If nothing matters, it’s easy to justify doing nothing. This is different from anxiety, for individuals suffering from chronic anxiety—or even those just undergoing a brief spell of it—can legitimately rationalize inaction because they are experiencing negative physiological stress.

A society sympathetic to the legitimate plight of those who suffer from anxiety is long overdue, but issues arise when nihilistic apathy is mistaken for anxiety. People who don’t suffer from anxiety may easily justify their inaction or apathy by claiming they’re too anxious to act. Since their claim uses the same language as a legitimate mental health disorder, calling for them to act is socially impossible even if it should not be in their case.

Some might interpret these postmodern difficulties as a reason to attack anxiety and apathy, wrongly lumping them together. This sort of thinking has given rise to caricatured ideas such as the “lazy liberal snowflake,” who is supposedly too anxious and entitled to work. For anyone vaguely familiar with anxiety disorders, this becomes problematically reductionist; equating anxious apathy to laziness delegitimizes the experiences of those suffering from anxiety every day.

Therefore, the focus must shift inward. Instead of judging those who claim anxiety, people should focus on deciphering the nature and limits of their own anxieties.

Data has shown not all stress is to be feared. A 2010 paper published in the National Library of Medicine reviews findings that, perhaps counterintuitively, report that mild levels of stress can lengthen lifespans, lessen the severity of cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease, autoimmune disease, allergies, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. More recent literature has identified this healthy stress as hormesis, which can “make you physically stronger, boost your immune system, improve your mood, and more.”

Despite having this information, we Queen’s students are fighting a losing battle against apathy. Student engagement has been on a downward trend for years, one example being AMS elections often going uncontested. Some of this is attributable to a lack of diversity and inclusivity in the Queen’s community, but apathy cannot be overlooked, nor should the problem be simplified.

The pandemic has not helped, either. Typical student spaces—like cafes, bars, and clubs—are shut, which further incentivizes doing nothing. Since in-person shopping and face-to-face socialization are now considered irresponsible, students are facing circumstances that encourage them to stay inside and have their Ben & Jerry’s delivered in the name of public health and safety.

While there are alternatives to the social pleasures stolen by the pandemic, socially-distanced visits and Zoom calls can only do so much. Much of the internet has devolved into a mess of people fighting against both science and society over what they perceive as being their right, like the “right” to not wear a mask. Come St. Patrick’s Day, the backyards of some will surely be brimming with drunk students. The insistence on throwing crowded parties during COVID-times, like the insistence on not wearing a mask, reflects a lack of originality. It’s apathy toward the idea of doing something that is non-habitual.

There are seemingly few options to manage this apathy. Too often it seems the answer is sedate, medicate, and accept apathy. Re-watching your favourite Disney movie in bed while ruminating in a state of growing anxiety is certainly living one’s truth, yet we must consider how we can bring life and excitement back to our world spontaneously. Instead, consider other ways to spend your time, like writing a poem, finding a secluded tree to climb, or building a pillow fort for your cat—preferably with passion and without judgement.

Take a breath the next time you’re considering opting out of action. Quieting anxiety with medication or apathy, while at times necessary, limits the opportunity to charge into scary new situations headlong and with reckless abandon. Sometimes genuine change requires this sort of energy. This is not meant to disparage people with anxiety disorders, but merely re-evaluate the relationships we all form with our anxiety. Before considering any changes to medication, proceed with care and only under the advice of a doctor.

The father of American Psychology, William James, addressed this situation poetically in the conclusion of his 1896 essay 'The Will to Believe': “Be strong and of a good courage. Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes […] if death ends all, we cannot meet death better.”

While everyone needs a rest day and a bath bomb from time to time, we should always be inwardly critical of our supposed limits. The capacity to challenge oneself, to slay anxiety through action, is a quality becoming undervalued in contemporary society.

Time is running out—we can’t do nothing forever.

Thor van Walsum is a fourth-year Arts & Science student


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