Existentialism posits that anxiety is a prerequisite to change and thus a necessity of life. Anxiety is complex: There are different forms of anxiety, causes of anxiety, and manifestation of anxiety. Therefore, I agree with existentialism only in part.
First, I’ll talk a little bit about anxiety itself and then explain why I agree that anxiety is sometimes important and necessary. Then I will look at anxiety from a different perspective; through the lens of trauma.
What is anxiety anyways? Without looking up this word in any dictionary or DSM manual, we can all draw upon our own experience to come up with a similar answer. It is a state of dis-ease. The feeling like something must be done or else we’re not going to be okay. That life is not okay and that we are not safe. Anxiety is fraught with worry, fear, agitation, restlessness, and racing thoughts.
Anxiety is not evil, wrong, or bad. It simply just is, like any other state of being. The problems arise when we cannot recognize that the anxiety does not belong to us. We become absorbed in the anxiety, believing the stories that come with this state of being. Perhaps we cope with anxiety through substance abuse. We want to numb it out, so we continue to push it deeper down inside. Unfortunately, more often than not this leads to a cycle of dependency and sustained maladaptive behaviors.
What if we allowed ourselves to feel anxious without judgement? What if we simply just noticed the racing thoughts, worry, and agitation without getting lost in it? What if we took a step back and remembered that these thoughts do not belong to us and that they are simply impermanent formations of energy arising and passing away? What would happen if you no longer attached yourself to the stories? Perhaps you would no longer feel the need to cope through substance dependency or other maladaptive behaviors.
We can float along the stream of life thinking everything is just hunky-dory even though deep down we are utterly miserable. If nothing ever changed and everything just stayed the same nothing would every change. This is why existentialism takes the position that anxiety is necessary as an impetus to waking up to life and to taking a more active responsibility in our experience of human freedom. We have to allow ourselves to feel this anxiety for anything to change. If we continue to numb it, nothing ever will.
The other side of anxiety is as it relates to trauma. Yes, anxiety can be a symptom of trauma. Sometimes we have to take medications in order to deal with the day-to-day reality of life. There is no shame in taking necessary steps to being able to get by. Although medication is a reasonable and sometimes necessary option, it is not a long-term solution. That being said, there is a way of creating sustainable change.