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I Think I’m Calm, So Why Do I Feel Anxious?

One of the most confusing feelings is when you feel both calm and anxious at the same time. It can seem like a constant battle in your mind. One-minute life feels normal, the next it seems frightening.

Or you find yourself going along with your day and suddenly realize you’re supposed to feel worried, and so you start worrying because you’re not worried enough.

It’s a frustrating and confusing way to exist. Unfortunately, when there are events that affect the world around us on a large scale, and over which we have no control, this feeling isn’t uncommon.

Many of us are existing in a heightened state of anxiety right now. It’s no wonder — coronavirus, earthquakes, riots, and, yes, even UFOs have dominated the news and, in many cases, have turned our lives upside down. Even those of us who feel like we’re coping and getting through things fairly well are dealing with a certain level of discomfort that can be hard to put your finger on. 

The impact that today’s circumstances are having on people vary a great deal. Some of these impacts are quite clear and yet some are so subtle that you may claim they don’t exist. Except they do and the effects and repercussions of living in the current conditions can take a large toll, whether you recognize it at that moment or not.

So how can we cope and maintain a calm, hopeful, and purposeful approach to life, when it seems like the world around us has gone mad? 

Acknowledge the Circumstances

Before you can really begin to cope you need to acknowledge that circumstances are stressful and not what we would consider normal. We often overlook doing this because our brains are wired to try and create order out of chaos. So, we immediately try to assimilate and, often unknowingly, try to make things feel normal even when they’re clearly not. This is both good and bad. 

On the good side, our natural inclination to look for a way to create normalcy and a functional framework for each day helps make our lives work and can create calm. Finding structure allows us to progress from day-to-day, attempting to be productive and positive. Most of us need this in order to thrive — this is especially true for children.

But sweeping the frightening, uncomfortable, or painful state of things to the side has a downside. When our lives become unsettled and disrupted it causes stress and anxiety. This is a normal response, and not just a psychological one either but also a physiological one as well. Turning a blind eye will only amplify the anxiety response and it can manifest in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Some people may find they become easily agitated and even develop anger issues. Others may go into a depressive state, or find that they feel sick, shaky for no defined reason, unable to concentrate, or just constantly uncomfortable. This is one place where the “I feel fine and not fine at the same time” feeling can develop and this duality in feelings can make it harder to address. 

So, acknowledging the circumstances is crucial. It’s perfectly acceptable to admit that things aren’t normal, that you don’t like it, and that a radical left-turn in your life and routine makes you unhappy. Once you give conscious recognition to these feelings, you’re ready to figure out the best way to cope. 

Coping with a Crazy World

Finding a way to cope and make the best out of a bad situation will look a bit different for each of us. But there are some general principles that, when employed, can make things easier. 

  • Share your sorrow and fear. When large scale events occur, whether it’s a pandemic or a natural disaster, there are enormous groups of people affected. As sad as this is, it’s also unifying. These types of circumstances don’t discriminate and there is a tremendous commonality in feeling and response. It can be tempting to withdraw and focus on taking care of yourself and immediate family, but that can also be very isolating and lonely. So you should also reach out to people around you. You now have a shared experience and something immediately in common. In the case of the our current state of physical distancing and social restrictions this may be a more virtual effort than ever before. But if there were ever a time for social media to do good it’s now.  
  • Reject feeling helpless. This can be tough for many of us. When events are out of our control it’s easy to feel like you are at the mercy of everything around you. You’re not. Yes, you may have new limitations and be suffering in certain ways, but don’t let yourself fall prey to the feeling of helplessness that can creep over you. One thing that can help is to make a list of the things you can do and take charge of doing them.
  • Indulge in healthy. Comfort food and comfortable clothes seem, well, comforting when things are scary or sad. But beware — too much of that and you’ll just feel worse. It’s a much better idea to indulge in the healthy activities and foods that perhaps you haven’t had time for before this. 
  • Swear. Not in front of your kids, not at your boss, not at strangers, etc. But studies show that using expletives at the appropriate time can reduce tension and anxiety and actually make you feel better. So, if you hate the state of things, try locking yourself in the bathroom and letting the f-bombs fly. You probably feel a lot f#$%ing better.

Whatever your strategy is, managing your feelings and response during stressful times can be a challenge. But give yourself permission to dislike it, feel sad and scared, and then make an effort to move forward. 

I Think I’m Calm, So Why Do I Feel Anxious?


Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and writes a blog about the issues facing men (and the women who love them). As an expert in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today, he regularly appears on The Huffington Post, NerdWallet and PsychCentral. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.


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APA Reference
Smith, K. (2020). I Think I’m Calm, So Why Do I Feel Anxious?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/i-think-im-calm-so-why-do-i-feel-anxious/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Jun 2020 (Originally: 23 Jun 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Jun 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.