Anxiety attacks are sometimes interpreted, by society at large but also by their confused, guilty or shamed sufferers, as an illness close to madness: the result of a mysterious chemically-based flaw in the brain that severs us from reality and normalcy. The suggested treatment is therefore medical, involving forceful attempts to dampen and anaesthetise parts of the misfiring mind. Yet such an interpretation – however kind in its intentions – depends on the assumption: that the normal response to the conditions of existence should be calm. But why should it be, given the obvious insanity of the world? The root cause of an anxiety attack is unusual sensitivity to a madness in the world most people dampen out. Of course, once you think about it, it’s entirely understandable one might have an anxiety attack at a party, when talking to a colleague or on a crowded train. There is genuine terror beneath the surface of such things. In her great novel Middlemarch, the 19th century English writer George Eliot, a deeply self-aware but also painfully self-conscious and anxious figure, reflected on what it would be like if we were truly sensitive, open to the world and felt the implications of everything “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.” It is, as Eliot recognises, both a privilege and a profound nightmare to hear that grass growing and that squirrel’s heart beating – and, also, by extension to feel everything deeply. We might well, as she sometimes did, long for a little more ‘well-wadded stupidity’ to block it all out. Nevertheless, Eliot’s lines offer us a way to reinterpret our anxiety with greater dignity and benevolence. It emerges from a dose of clarity that is (currently) too powerful for us to cope with – but isn’t for that matter wrong. We panic because we rightly feel how thin the veneer of civilisation is, how mysterious other people are, how improbable it is that we exist at all, how everything that seems to matter now will eventually be annihilated, how random many of the turnings of our lives are, how prey we are to accident. Anxiety is simply insight that we haven’t yet found a productive use for, that hasn’t yet made its way into art or philosophy. It’s a mad world that insists that the anxious are the crazy ones. We are in such a hurry to see anxiety as a sickness, we fail to notice its health and wisdom. It is a legitimate, constant response to the oddity of going to parties, riding public transport or more widely, of being alive. We should never exacerbate our suffering by trying to push our disquiet aggressively away. Our lack of calm isn’t deplorable or a sign of weakness. It is simply the justifiable expression of our mysterious participation in a disordered, uncertain world. We publish new, thought provoking films, every week. Be sure to subscribe to our channel and take a look at more of what we have to offer at the link on your screen now.