This time of anguish

Image: Ronaldo Santos


What science already knows about human distress and how to deal with it

When addressing the issue of anguish, Jacques Lacan described it in relation to the real, with that which is impossible to describe. We just feel it. It's different from fear, for example. When we are afraid, we know what it is and we can choose to run away from it or face it. Not anguish, it presents itself in relation to the world, to reality, and it is not possible to objectify it.

Our time of pandemic has accelerated distress processes. Back to school, after two years of the pandemic, brought us reports from all over Brazil of how this strange feeling has taken over the hearts and minds of students. In Recife, students from a public school had a collective anxiety attack and 26 of them needed medical attention in an emergency department. Similar phenomena happened in the Federal District, in Rio de Janeiro and in São Paulo. There is a risk of taking them as isolated facts, but there is also a risk of generalizing these episodes as if they were universal. Neither one nor the other.

The American Association for Educational Research (AERA) recently published an article reporting a study on the effects of Covid-19 on students and identified clear symptoms not only of anxiety, but also of depression and anguish.

Psychoanalysis treats each of these symptoms differently. Anxiety has attracted greater attention from specialists in this period. The Secretary of Health of the State of São Paulo and the Ayrton Sena Institute revealed research that indicates that 69% of students from state schools report symptoms of anxiety. The UFRJ Educational Opportunities Research Laboratory also detected the increase.

The conclusions seem quite obvious: we are facing a mental health problem that cannot be underestimated or stigmatized, as if it were something else. Much less reduced in the form of a prejudice, as is so often done in relation to other diseases, as when it is said that a person is obese because he does not take care of himself or that he drinks too much because he wants to. Obesity and alcoholism are diseases. Anguish too.

Nobody suffers from anxiety as it was thought in antiquity: that it was just a silly feeling of philosophers, poets, sages or romantics. Anxiety is a suffering for every individual who has difficulty accepting life as it is. There are pathological variations, as in the treatment of the bipolar person, for example. But anguish is real suffering, based on the person's difficulty in finding himself in the world. It is difficult to determine its causes and because it is not objective, like fear, its treatment is also always complicated, since it is not possible to attack a real motivation.

The word anguish comes from the Greek and is related to angle (angus) universally associated with pain in the center of the chest (just at that angle between the breasts). It's not by chance. It is a metaphor that perfectly translates the feeling of needing a place where you feel safe, where you can feel that you are fragile. Psychoanalyst Christian Dunker explains that the moment we are going through returning to our normal lives accentuates the feeling of anguish. The mask, for example, which we wear for so long, tells us a lot about what it raises in us in relation to others. “The danger is out there, the danger is the Other”.

We are now having to give new meanings to what we are living. It is this need that brings anguish. When we realize that everything ends, that we are going to die, that our time is up, or that we are in a transitional period, in a liminality phase, for example, when we are no longer what we were and we pass to a stage where we have not yet we are the new, anguish arises.

Jacques Lacan demonstrated that the manifestations of anguish affect the subject's body. But each person can react in very different ways to distressing sensations like dozens of attempts to get into a college, to pass an exam, a selection, or a competition, for example, or even, to find a job opportunity.

According to Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, anguish is a danger signal of the I (Angstbereitshaft). It is what provokes in all of us unconscious feelings of guilt and a kind of feeling of abyss (Abyss).

At the origin of the term, the angle metaphor also leads to the idea of ​​narrowing, tightness, suffocation. Anguish reveals itself, therefore, as something that squeezes the neck, that prevents normal breathing, that “squeezes” us. We don't know how to explain it to those who ask us. Because one does not have anguish in relation to objective things, no matter how much it appears in objective situations. What we feel and that brings us suffering is an indescribable sensation and, as much as we try to rationalize it, it does not seem to resolve or make sense. There is something, but you don't know exactly what. Lacan described it this way: “il n'est pas sans ressources”. It is subjective, never objective.

The malaise of civilization has increased feelings of anguish. We feel historically more and more pressured. Many forms of pressure are absolutely symbolic, but so strong that they seem real. And in a sense, for that very reason, they are absolutely real. They are not “things in our heads”, as they say. Psychoanalysis is a therapeutic path. It is based on the idea of ​​listening. Because talking about what causes us suffering is always liberating. For this reason, in this moment of back-to-school, especially, it will be necessary to put yourself in the task of listening to what the students have to say, of listening to their feelings, without judging them or trying to solve them. Simply listen. And to listen with interest, with acceptance, like listening that is really interested in the Other.

*Geder Parzianello Professor of Journalism at the Federal University of Pampa (UNIPAMPA).


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • Why are we on strike?statue 50g 20/06/2024 By SERGIO STOCO: We have reached a situation of shortage of federal educational institutions