Dread in the Age of Dread: Navigating Existential Anxiety

Aug 26, 2023

“Anxiety is love's greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.”

- Anaïs Nin

It’s an anxious age, and how could it be otherwise? On all sides loom threats magnified by the flashing amplification of our techno-brains. Climate collapse, political chaos, financial ruin, disease - the mind spins worst-case scenarios while rationality cowers mute in the corner.

Day by day, a low-grade existential dread seeps in. We ruminate endlessly, desperately strategizing to control that which fundamentally eludes our command. But what if, in our panic, we overlook resources close at hand? Somatic sciences illuminate overlooked means to cultivate courage, right within these unsettled bodily homes of ours.

For as minds spin endlessly through bleak thought loops, our organisms retain simple wisdom. Our flesh remains a steadfast guide if we can silence ravenous cognition. Through care and curiosity for the body’s signals, we remember how to abide within the only place we ever truly possessed - this breath, this beat, this brief dance through dust and starlight.

The Vicious Circle of Existential Worry

It makes sense we respond to uncertainty with dread. The mind fixates on permanent loss - dissipating youth, life’s swiftness, and the inevitability of death. Of course, anxiety blooms when attempting to accept that which lies beyond our control.

And yet, ruminating endlessly fuels panic without providing solutions. We fall down philosophical rabbit holes, as if enough thinking unravels life’s mystic heart. But comprehension lives below thought, whispering faintly within sinew, marrow, and pulse.

Somatic Manifestations

With courage, we might lean into somatic manifestations of existential angst as guides, not impediments. Where philosophical rumination causes chest tightness and adrenaline spikes, we bring soft breath. In darkness, we notice where hands clench, then ask why.

Attending to somatic clues grants power to change channels - from mental loops to physical release. For our bodily home holds more wisdom than our spinning thoughts, if we tend its quiet language. Just beneath dread, awe awaits.

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy @Unsplash

Reconnect to Awe

When existential angst strikes, somatic practices like meditative walking immerse us back in intimate life. Moving through a leaf-strewn forest trail, noticing crunch underfoot and the scent of coming rain, stills analysis. Awe emerges.

Relating to the world sensually - to texture, sounds, aromas - interrupts cognitive loops. We escape the traps of abstraction. Direct perception, not just description, returns us to the simple grace of living - if we can just release thoughts' stranglehold and breathe into the body.

Befriend Your Biology

Moreover, bringing somatic awareness to anxiety's physical signals breeds calm. Noticing tension without judgment defuses fight-flight-freeze reactions before they escalate.

We meet adrenaline surges with care and curiosity until they crest. Our biology holds intuitive mechanisms for regulation, woven into nerve fibers over eons of evolution. But we must cease to war with instincts and befriend inner nature.

Ride Change's Waves

Existential dread reflects the mind's desperate flight from life's uncertainty. But what liberation awaits when we acknowledge control as an illusion? We need no longer rage against the river's flow.

With care, we train to trust change's currents to bear rather than drown us. Equanimity builds as we consciously practice sensing each sensation without being swept away by fear. Moment by moment, we strengthen our capacity to flow with life's unfolding.

Beyond Dread, Reverence for Being

When we relinquish futile attempts to dominate life, we reconnect to childlike wonder birthed before dread took root. We are open to the privilege of bearing fragile form against faster currents. The mind stops fighting.

To inhabit vulnerability fully is a gift. Our unsettled hearts and trembling hands reveal humanity's lonely courage. How sacred to have been born, to breathe, risk, grieve, and touch beauty in this flesh. Awe lives in accepting we never stood on solid ground.


Existential anxiety reflects avoidance of inhabiting life in all its ferocious beauty. But when we lean into the body's tender wisdom, our worried minds quiet. Stillness spreads.

By embracing the breath's loving rhythm, we return to the only home we ever knew - this quivering instant, miraculously unfolding its petals. May we hold our anxious age with empathy, finding pockets of peace within. For though dread rises, wonder wells eternally beneath ephemeral fears. All that we suffer births compassion. In the end, to open is enough.

Photo credit: Amel Majanovic @Unsplash 

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