On Fear Spiraling
The other day my friend coined a phrase that aptly describes a psychological phenomenon currently afflicting us: fear spiraling. Fear spiraling involves the rapid accumulation of negative thoughts creating a downward spiral of anxiety and despair. It usually starts fairly innocuous but gathers layers of self-defeatism and ends in an all-encompassing state of panic.
Here is a classic example (though the permutations and additional tangents are endless):
- My contract job is soul shriveling. The work is meaningless and creates no value beyond bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.
- There is no end in sight to this tedium.
- What if I never find a full time permanent job in my field?
- If I never obtain permanent employment, I will never become settled in one place.
- If I never become settled in one place, I will never be able to meet someone and start a serious relationship.
- If I never have a serious relationship, I will never get married.
- If I never get married, I will never have kids.
- If I never have stable employment or a partner to ease the financial burden, I will never pay off my student debt.
- If I never pay off my student debt, I will never accumulate any savings.
- If I never accumulate savings, I will never be able to retire
- I will die poor and alone.
When I spiral right down to the ledge (and it is a ledge; one that promises a black hole of existential melancholy upon the final leap), it takes a good friend (or more often than not, my Mother) to talk me back and restore some semblance of balanced thinking. I’ll concede that seeing these thoughts in writing – as opposed to darkly swirling within the confines of my mind – makes their rather over dramatic nature jump out. But surely I’m not the only one who occasionally falls prey to a seemingly logical series of accelerating hysteria.