May, Rollo. The Meaning of Anxiety. New York: Ronald Press, 1950.
Although this book was published in the middle of the twentieth century, May’s insights on anxiety can help to put us at ease in relation to the global pandemic which is currently affecting the world.
He draws a distinction between normal and neurotic anxiety. A neurosis is a distorted perception of reality which is non-psychotic. Anxiety refers to persistent feelings of uncertainty and helplessness. It must be proportionate to the actual threat.
It does not involve a response to intra-psychic conflict such as repression. It can be consciously confronted in a constructive manner, namely by calling on reserves of courage, or the anxiety-causing situation can be altered. [i].
In neurotic anxiety , the reaction to the threat is disproportionate to the threat, it involves repression or some other form of intrapsychic conflict, and is managed by a range of neurotic defense mechanisms. Freud termed normal anxiety as objective because the threat is deemed to be external and real. In neurotic anxiety one is unable to deal with threats because of one’s subjective reality. These inner psychological mechanisms prevent the individual summoning the resources of courage he possesses. These defense mechanisms means that the problem is avoided rather than confronted.
The genesis of this pattern of anxiety is usually in childhood. For example, if the child experiences parental rejection, but is unable to identify it as such, he represses it as anxiety. This becomes a way of dealing with similar threats throughout his life.
The threat of the corona virus is real, not imagined, but there are certain precautions we can take, to minimise our risk such as social distancing, self-isolation, wearing masks, keeping fit, maximizing nutrition, quitting bad habits such as smoking, poor sleep hygiene caused by using our screens into the wee hours of the morning. These are proactive things we can do whilst we retreat rather than just retreating in fear. This means that if we do come in contact with the virus, we have then made ourselves a stronger adversary better posed to defeat it.