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Unsolvable Puzzles

April was the month of the military child, and there were several recurring themes I heard in the discussion surrounding us military brats:

We’re resilient. We’re adaptable. We’re well-rounded.

Another big one was that we’re problem-solvers. And for many of us this is very true. Our unique life-experiences have taught us above all else how to make things work. But sometimes this tendency can become something we get stuck on, especially when we stumble upon a problem we can’t singlehandedly solve.

There are so many things in life a person can lose sleep over: a fight with a friend, tomorrow’s math test, a family argument, tryouts for a sport. Many more are more specific to military life: missing a deployed parent, an upcoming move. And some extend beyond the reach of our own lives and even communities, existential world issues: war, climate change, inequality.

It was that last category that I found nagging at me that month. The world can seem like such a bleak place sometimes, and having lived in so many places and had access to so many types of people and experiences, world issues feel all the more personal and poignant. Having lived in Europe, Ukraine feels a lot less distant. Having a Dad in the army and knowing so many other military families, the idea of a conflict with Russia leaves a pit in my stomach if I let myself think about it for more than a few passing seconds. Having seen the effects of our climate emergency first hand while living in California during a record breaking wildfire season, I can’t help but find myself anxious and afraid.

And the problem with all of these…well, problems, is that they are almost completely out of my control. My usual coping mechanisms fail here. I can’t use logic to quell my fears. The statistics and expert predictions only induce more anxiety and very real and rational cause for concern. I get stuck in a rabbit hole, so to speak.

So, here’s a catalog of all the emotions that come with a cycle of existential anxiety, as well as some tips and tricks for working your way out of them. Above all else, I hope that this list will help you feel less alone the next time you involuntarily visit the existential rabbit hole.

1: The Spiral

Usually, I end up here when I start putting a lot of attention into a world problem. It felt fine at first; I thought I was just staying informed and involved in society, until suddenly, I found that the information left me feeling hopeless, afraid, and stuck, rather than empowered.

Sometimes, it's not even information I sought out. I stumbled upon something in conversation or the news, and it was just too much. This is awful, but what can I do? It’s a refrain that can feel extremely lonely, but almost everyone goes through it at some point.

Some things that help me here:

  • Anxiety can creep up on you. Back during the pandemic, looking up the number of COVID cases felt OK for me sometimes. Then, a few lookups later, I’d feel crazy anxious. One way I'm sometimes able to catch myself is making sure I'm dosing out stressors when possible so I don’t become overwhelmed.

2: The Paradox

I really want to fix things. Even though I already have a sinking feeling in your stomach that this is outside of my control, I turn it over in my mind again and again and again, as if a solution might reveal itself. My brain can’t leave it alone and it itches at me while I'm trying to read a book or sleep or have a quiet moment. It’s like a riddle or a paradox with no solution, but I feel a need to find one because this problem is high stakes for the world as we know it.

Some things that help me here:

  • Over seven billion of us live in this world together. That can be disheartening, because it can make things feel beyond the power of one person, but it can be empowering, too. The thing about these issues is that they aren't just mine alone. So many people share them with me.

  • If I mentally divide a big problem up among the countless people it affects, there are bite-sized solutions. They may not be as complete as I’d like, but turning my focus and action there can be really powerful. Think about it like this: What does it look like to take on 1/7,000,000,000 of the climate crisis? That could be me helping out in a community garden, or promoting recycling in my school. Tackling 1/329,500,000 of the problem of gender inequality in the United States could be using my voice to stick up for someone. Those are some tiny and reassuring fractions, and turning worry into action is pretty good distraction.

3: Why Don’t They Get It?

As if anxiety isn’t challenging enough, it often shows up with a metaphorical sidekick who kicks down the door and stands amongst the smoldering chaos while I cower in a corner. Anger. “Why don’t other people care about this issue?” it likes to yell in my head. Or, “How could so-and-so say or do this?” Sometimes, when I’m really stuck, my angry voice even resents that other people could be walking around enjoying a nice day while there are so many awful things happening in the world.

Some things that help me here:

  • Everyone goes through anxiety about different things at different times. A good day for me might be a worry day for someone else and vice versa. Just because someone appears to not have a care in the world right now doesn’t mean they weren’t gripped by paralyzing fear a month ago, or a year ago. And, anxiety is often very invisible.

  • In times of struggle, we as humans crave connection. I benefit a lot form finding people I trust and creating a safe space for myself. Not only does this help me feel seen and heard, it helps give me the boost I need to handle the people who don’t make me feel good. The positive energy allows me to react with empathy and a little bit of distance, which feels a lot better than getting angry and taking things personally.

4: Out of the Rabbit Hole

Life has its ups and downs. Moments of anxiety will come and go with moments of joy and optimism in between where tears and worry seem a thing of the past. As hard as these moments of anxiety are, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Some things that help:

  • Learning from a past experience with worry helps me work through it more easily next time. Self-reflecting on what worked and didn’t work for me helps me get to know better how to care for myself in the future. Self-care is an important tool, and it looks a little different for everyone.

Military teens are ready to tackle so many problems that come our way, but humanity's biggest ones can pose a particular challenge for us. Fortunately, this is an experience so many people can relate to. Hopefully, reading this made you feel less alone or gave you some ideas for you to take care of yourself in those moments when the world feels like a scary place.

A Final Note

If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of worry that doesn't resolve itself after a few weeks or is getting in the way of your daily life, you are also not alone. So many teens struggle with anxiety ever year and there are lots of avenues through which you can get the support you need. Aside from a school counselor or MFLC, Bloom has a list of great resources you can use as a starting place.


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