“If someone asked of us the truth of Dostoevski’s statement that flatly defines man as a being who can get used to anything, we would reply, “Yes, a man can get used to anything, but do not ask us how.’” – Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
For better or worse, humans have only been allotted so many fear responses. When faced with a crisis, we have the subconscious choice to either fight the problem, flee the problem, or freeze in response to the problem.
And when it comes to a crisis like COVID-19, where we can’t exactly fight from it or flee from it, our only option is to freeze; to “shelter in place”. The purported benefit is that we will be sheltered from a threat more dangerous to the physical body than isolation is to the human mind.
As with all responses, there is a cost to the benefit of freezing. The emotional cost of the freeze response is that it mutates into apathy. When we unconsciously believe that there is nothing we can do, and that anything we could do would be futile, we lose our own sense of agency. And it is our sense of agency that makes us who we are.
At its worst, this festering feeling of futility leads to learned helplessness, which is essentially the emotional breeding ground for depression. Most of us won’t fall into a severe depression during this time unless we have some predisposition to it, or history with it. Instead, most of us will feel this vague sense of nothingness, or apathy.
Left simmering on the stove, apathy boils down to a surrender of the self to the external circumstance. Ultimately, apathy is a resignation of the self. It swaddles you in safety, but it does so by alleviating you from the desires and drives that caused you pain. It drives a wedge between who you are—your burning innate will to live—and your conscious mind. So you are outwardly, and even inwardly, convinced that you truly couldn’t care less about your own life.
How do you triumph over apathy?
First, recognize that you have lost your joie de vivre, your lust for life. Then, think back to times in your life when you felt intensely alive, happy, and excited to seize the day. This is a crucial step, because the mind has a tendency to assume that life always felt the way it currently does, and that it will continue to be that way in the future.
Remind yourself that your natural state is to be engaged with life; that you are not here to be a passive participant in existence. You are meant to live with intention and intensity; you are meant to experience the fullness of life.
Harness the mind-body connection. Flood consciousness and intention into your body through yoga, dance, or something purely physical. Then engage your mind by doing something intellectually active: reading, figuring out a problem, or meditating.