by Annabelle Parr
Have you found yourself feeling especially anxious or stressed out in the current political climate? You’re not alone. This particular election and transition of power is unique for many reasons, not least of which is the widespread stress it is creating in Americans across the political spectrum.
According to the American Psychological Association’s most recent Stress in America survey, two-thirds of Americans report feeling stress regarding the future of our nation.
This stress is bipartisan.
Prior to the election, stress may have been divided more along party lines. Back in August, Democrats were significantly more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs 26 percent) to feel stress regarding the outcome of the presidential election. However, according to the most recent study conducted in January, 59 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats reported that the future of the nation was a significant source of stress.
Overall stress levels have increased since the election.
In the ten years since the inception of the Stress in America survey, Americans’ stress levels had been gradually decreasing. However, between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ average reported stress level increased from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 represents no stress and 10 represents enormous stress. This was the first statistically significant increase in stress since the survey began 10 years ago.
We are not the first cohort to feel stressed about the future of our country.
It is important to remember that this APA survey has only been conducted for the last decade, and to keep in perspective that our country has been through numerous tumultuous and stressful times. We are not the first group of citizens to be very stressed and concerned for America’s future. History shows us that we have inevitably and cyclically encountered dark times as a nation, and that hopefully, after each struggle, we emerge stronger and maybe a little bit wiser and more just.
However, currently we are very much in the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty. We are deeply stressed, and we are not alone in that experience. There is comfort to be found in the “me too,” but it is also important that together we learn to find balance during this time.
How do we manage our stress?
Engaging in democracy.
One of the beautiful things about our country is that we are part of a democracy, where we are empowered to use our voices to speak up regarding those things that do concern us. In order to properly voice our concerns, it is important that we use our access to information to stay informed about what is going on. (However, we must also recognize when we need to disconnect. More on the importance of limiting our information intake below).
One way to try to assuage the stress we feel is to use it as fuel for action. We can spend a few minutes calling our local representatives and communicating our concerns. We can get involved volunteering for or donating to an organization whose efforts are in line with our values. We can participate in protests or marches to literally stand up for the things that are important to us. There is something very empowering about engaging in community and collective action with other Americans who share our views.
Regardless of our political views and beliefs, our stress seems to be collective. The details of our concerns may differ, but we all have the opportunity to use our voices and engage in the future of the nation.
Finding a balance between staying engaged and allowing ourselves to disconnect.
However, as much as it is important to stay engaged, we must also recognize the limits as to what we can do to help foster change. When we come together, we are strong. But individually, we cannot carry the weight of the nation on our shoulders. And as we work to remain informed, it is also important that we allow ourselves the time and space away from news.
Limiting technology and news consumption.
Between all of our technological devices, 24-hour news cycles, and politically saturated Facebook news feeds, we could allow our eyes and minds to be occupied all day long by the constant, stress-inducing updates. We need to limit our news consumption in order to allow our minds and bodies to rest. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the news will leave us feeling powerless.
Maybe the most important thing that we can do at this time of great national stress is to take care of ourselves. Self-care is vital to our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. And if you have felt that your nation (or perhaps its commander in chief) has failed to care for you, or sent you the message that you are unworthy of care, maybe your greatest act of protest and defiance will be to choose to take care of yourself in spite of this.
Self-care will not fix the national situation, of course. However, wouldn’t it be powerful to have a nation filled with citizens who know how to care for their own well-being, and as a result they have the energy to stay engaged in their democracy?
How can we practice self-care?
Good self-care is unique to each individual. What is relaxing and healing for one person may not be as helpful to another. It’s important to pay attention to those things, those rituals, that calm and center us. That signal to our psyche a time of rest or peace. Here are some ideas to help inspire you:
- Set aside some time to walk each day and focus on breathing the fresh air in your lungs and feeling the ground under your feet with each step.
- Practice yoga.
- Find a mindfulness meditation to practice every day. This doesn’t have to take more than five minutes. Check out this link for some suggestions: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations
- Not a fan of meditation? Try focusing on your breathing. Take a minute to practice some mindful breaths. Check out our blog post on breathing for some tips: http://www.anxietytherapysandiego.com/blog/2016/6/8/the-power-of-breathing
- Turn off your devices. Allow yourself to unplug entirely. Maybe consider deactivating your automatic news updates, or deleting the Facebook app from your phone. Set limits on your news consumption by mapping out a given time to check the news each day.
- Find time for humor. Is there a show that makes you smile or laugh? Laughter is healing and helps relieve stress.
- Spend time with loved ones. Share your experiences and your feelings, but also make sure to find time to talk about things unrelated to the current political situation. It’s healing to talk with others who feel the same way that we do and to know that we are not alone. But it is also important to have fun and to remember that we can still enjoy the sweet things in life even when there are reasons to be concerned.
In order to manage the stress that so many of us are feeling, seek balance. This means finding ways to be proactive about the things that you can change or that you have control over, but also accepting the things that are beyond your control. And in the midst of it all, remember to take care of yourself in the ways that work best for you.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the stress or anxiety that you feel, and you need some extra help, a therapist can help you to process your feelings. They can give you a space to feel heard, which in itself can be healing and empowering. They can help give you tools to manage your stress so that it doesn’t leak into other areas of your life or prevent you from leading a healthy day-to-day. Sometimes the best form of self-care is knowing when we need to reach out for external support.
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If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(2017, Feb. 15). Many Americans stress about future of our nation, new APA Stress in American survey reveals. Retreived from: http://apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx