COVID-19 and Exitential Dread

Jay Getten | Oct 15, 2020 | 5 min read

We are living amid a global pandemic and have experienced unprecedented changes in our way of life. With the constant bombardment of troubling information on Covid-19, social unrest, and economic uncertainty across multiple media platforms it would be unnatural for us to not feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety.

Change is hard for most people and sweeping change can be paralyzing for many others. The uncertainty of the virus and its far-reaching impact on society is enough to cause anxiety. However, I feel we are being confronted with something far more unsettling. With non-stop coverage of the virus and its seriousness, for the first time since 9-11 we are collectively being confronted by our own mortality.

For me, this confrontation was not blatant. I did not read an article on the Corona Virus and have this immediate realization that my life is incredibly fragile or that I was going to die soon. It was more of gradual feeling like I was sinking. I also had this burning desire to do or complete something, but I could not define what I was supposed to be doing. The sinking feeling and this need to complete something were overwhelming. Normal activities felt unsatisfying and my attempts to distract myself with social media and binging tv shows felt hollow.

The more I tried to fill that void with distraction the more I noticed the sinking feeling and the desire to do something. To understand this, I deactivated my social media account and turned off my TV. I started to look inside myself and I saw that I was afraid of dying without living the life that I want. What was more confounding was that I was not even sure of what I wanted out of this life? Which brought about more anxiety.

During this moment of internal conflict, I remembered reading about existentialism while I was in college. I do not save much but I am grateful that I saved some of my old textbooks. As I looked through a chapter on existential thought I felt encouraged by its words.

Existentialists do not view death negatively but hold that an awareness of death gives significance to living. By blinding ourselves to the reality of our own mortality through distraction, life becomes dull and meaningless. But if we can acknowledge that we are mortal and do not have an eternity to live the life that we want, the present becomes crucial. Fostering an awareness of our mortality can be source of enthusiasm for life and an awakening of our individual potential (Corey, 2009).

This opened the door for a new perspective, but the hard part was still to come. I had to decide if I was going to use this time in self-isolation to look within and ask some difficult questions. This meant fighting temptation to turn on the tv, reactive my Facebook account, or play a game on my phone. I had to sit quietly and ask myself what is important to me, what are my values, what do I want to accomplish in life, and what are the relationships that I want? After, I was able to identify some of these things I noticed that the sinking feeling started to dissipate. Though I felt like was treading water the need to do something remained. I found the solution in taking steps to accomplish the things that I want in life and steps to build or repair my relationships.

I know these feelings do not go away because of a few days of self-reflection and some initial steps. As the pandemic rolls on with no end in sight, I hope that I am able to continue to disconnect from distraction, reconnect with myself and the people who matter most to me. I also hope to keep the awareness of my own mortality at the forefront of my mind so that I no longer fool myself by thinking I have all the time in the world to do things that I have always wanted and have the kind of relationships that are meaningful to me.

If you are interested in disconnecting from distraction and looking within, I encourage you to join me in utilizing this time to discover what is meaningful to you and start taking steps to realize these things in your life. Self-isolation does not have to be a burden. I honestly believe it can be the hard reset that many of us have needed for some time. I know it is something that I have needed. By collectively looking inward my hope is that we will emerge from this pandemic with a newfound clarity and desire to take steps towards a more purposeful life.


Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling psychotherapy. (8th ed.). Belmont, CA : Thomson Higher Education.

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