Existentialism and Anxiety

Steven Gambardella
The Sophist
Published in
3 min readNov 21, 2020

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Imagine standing on a chessboard, the game is in mid-play. You are surrounded by pieces, both black and white. You are to move next, that much you know, but you don’t know if you are a black or a white piece and there’s no way of telling.

That’s how I’d describe the feeling of anxiety.

We all feel it to some degree.* It’s a feeling of not knowing what is expected of us: what our obligations are, how we should behave, what we should possess, where we should be at some future point. It’s a feeling of dread about the choices we have to make.

Anxiety is the sibling of regret. While regret is feeling bad about something you have done, anxiety is not knowing what to do. Like the chess piece, we’re turning over in our minds the possible moves we can make without really knowing how we can move, even though we have to.

Any solution to the normal feeling we all have of anxiety would have to be radical. It’s a deep-seated emotion. Perhaps it’s a compulsion, a restlessness of the mind that keeps us thinking, imagining, and — most importantly — doing.

The Danish Existentialist Søren Kierkegaard suggested that it was intractably fundamental to being human, it’s the other side of the same coin as our freedom. Fear and dread are emotional responses to what we cannot control, anxiety seems linked to the part we…

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