Individual Protesting and Group Protests as Individual Anxiety and Collective Anxiety

Jordan Brown

What is protest?

What's the point of protesting something?

And what is the connection between protesting and mental health?

If we can understand it at the individual level, maybe we'll understand it at the group and societal levels.

Protesting As Individual Anxiety

Consider the last time something didn't go your way. Maybe a friend made a decision that you weren't fond of.

Or maybe a family member acted in a way that you found despicable.

Whatever it was, it probably didn't feel good. But did you protest? Did you rise up and publicly announce your disagreement with the offending party? If it were the first time something like that happened with the person, probably not. But if it were the seventh time? You probably took some kind of action.

Taking action against another person to right some perceived wrong--that's a form of protest. We do it all the time with one another.

As a human being, you have a space in which you exist and in which you feel safe and secure. When others enter your space or take action that affects your sense of normalcy, any response is a form of protest. When coexistence no longer feels possible, one option for any autonomous human being is protest. It's an attempt to return to a secure base. It's trying to escape anxiety to bring order into your personal world.

Group Protests as Collective Anxiety

But it's not just individual anxiety that leads to protest.

Anything perceived by an individual can be perceived by a group. And perception is always reality. You don't have to agree with a person or a group to know and acknowledge when anxiety has boiled over.

When an individual is feeling anxious and trying to return to normalcy, it's usually accepted by the whole. But when a group feels enough pressure that it feels it needs to take action to correct it, alarm bells start to go off.

Why is that?

It's often because that collective anxiety bleeds over to those affected by it. An individual taking new action is one thing. A group deciding, as a whole, to act another way is anxiety-provoking for everyone around the group. This has an uncomfortable, destabilizing effect until a new normal is reached.

This is the power and plight of protest.

The world is always shifting. The one constant we can always rely on is change. Without change, the world would be rigid and topple over. With change, the world is always shifting and auto-correcting.

Just like an individual can know something is wrong, so can a group.

Sometimes that anxiety is a false alarm. Other times it is real. But remember, perception is reality.

So, in a way, it doesn't matter what is real and what is not. The human way forward is to validate other people's experiences.

The human way is to seek common humanity, to see when others are struggling. And then find new ways to coexist.