05 Feb Stress And Anxiety Rising – Why? & Ways To Cope
Why Are We So Stressed And Anxious these Days?
I was recently sitting in my office when it hit me; there really is more stress and anxiety these days. It’s seen in all ages, and across all socioeconomic categories. You’re probably saying, of course, you’re a psychotherapist. Yes, stress and anxiety issues come with the territory. Even so, I’m definitely noticing an uptick in my clients. My reaction is to do my thing and help people catch their breath, and figure out what works best for them to better cope with it. I’m very grateful to still have the same passion for helping others in regaining their joy and peace of mind.
However, the part of me that is trained in the psychological sciences is increasingly intrigued. Why are these common, but debilitating conditions reaching epidemic proportions? In my recent experience working with clients, these are the most talked about reasons for their experiencing stress and anxiety.
Stress And Anxiety – The Swamp Of Politics:
It’s been a very different climate since the 2016 election. Politics has become more polarizing. My clients are expressing stress and anxiety over the President and the government, and feeling unsafe. They tell me they’re concerned about the President being impulsive and antagonistic, and putting our country at risk. Some have grown up watching parents and family members become more divided and intense with their political beliefs. That the government is corrupt and untrustworthy. They are not alone. Many of their fellow citizens share that fear. According to Live Science:
“While “corrupt government officials” have long topped the fear list, Americans are becoming more fearful of their representatives: In 2016, about 60 percent reported being afraid or very afraid of government corruption. Today, the number reporting that fear is nearly 14 points higher.”
Politics Is Synonymous With Corruption
Corruption is nothing new though. It’s a fixture of any government that has ever existed. People can get caught up in their present day existence and believe things are the worst they’ve ever been. The History Channel has a balancing perspective that shows many Presidents have been scandalous. This highlights that it’s all perspective. This is my favorite:
“…Warren G. Harding also had a secret out-of-wedlock child, a daughter he conceived with a 19-year-old woman named Nan Britton. He also carried on a long-term affair with the wife of a local dry goods store owner who blackmailed him for $50,000 and a cruise to China during the 1920 election. But Harding’s scandalous behavior didn’t end when he left his bedroom. His cabinet members, known as the “Ohio Gang” because of their wanton corruptness, were involved in so many shady dealings—the Teapot Dome Scandal stands at the top of that list—that Harding left office with a reputation as one of the worst presidents in U.S. History.”
If you focus only on the now, it’s easy to believe the sky is falling. But, if you look at history, it looks more like nothing new under the sun. This country has survived many challenges and administrations. Remember the inspiring words of Franklin D. Roosevelt “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Don’t let anxiety run your life.
Stress And Anxiety About The Environment:
This is something people are made aware of practically everyday, and it’s usually not positive. In fact, it’s being trumpeted as world doom. Of course this is going to cause major stress and anxiety. My clients express worry about noticeable changes like big hailstones, extended winters, and earthquakes and extreme weather increasing across the world.
Large hailstones are something many other parts of the country accept as normal. We’re just not used to that in the northeast. Nature.com has a super sciency in-depth examination of hail producing storms. Honestly, I was barely able to understand it. I did take away from it that they confirm these types of storms are increasing in the northeastern US. What’s not clear is if it’s from a natural change in weather “variability”, man-made climate impact, or both. There aren’t enough years of data for this particular type of weather event to be conclusive. In other words, the jury is still out on this one. If you’re into checking out the research yourself, you can find it Here.
The other concerns can be summed up as stress and anxiety about climate change. Until undertaking this article, I was unaware of a lot of the specifics about this issue. Only what I picked up from news sources. I didn’t know what I was in for when I researched this. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. I was often overwhelmed. What is a fact is that the earth has been gradually warming for a long time. Most climate scientists believe man made by products, primarily carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere, have added to about 50% of this warming since the industrial revolution. More noticeably since 1950. Some scientists disagree with this.
What does Science Say?
The science isn’t exactly settled yet. Even the scientists who support anthropogenic(man made) climate warming admit that it’s a complex issue. They are still working out errors and bias in the way they process the enormous amounts of different temperature data they use. Their predictions are based on computer models that assume certain conditions in the future.
Will We Survive?
What is certain is that the earth has survived many extreme climate swings, and will likely be able to correct itself. The concern is how will this affect our life on earth. I’ve noticed that news organizations, politicians, and activists tend to focus on extreme predictions and fear. This gets clicks and ratings for journalists and newscasters, and public support for legislators. People use fear to get us to bypass our critical thinking, and automatically support their agendas.
A Voice Of Reason
I found this well reasoned Forbes article by Michael Shellenberger. He’s a Time Magazine “Hero Of The Environment” and Green Book Award winner. He doesn’t believe we face extinction, and favors rational realistic approaches to dealing with this issue. Here’s an excerpt:
“Climate change is an issue I care passionately about and have dedicated a significant portion of my life to addressing. I have been politically active on the issue for over 20 years and have researched and written about it for 17 years….”
“I also care about getting the facts and science right and have in recent months corrected inaccurate and apocalyptic news media coverage of fires in the Amazon and fires in California, both of which have been improperly presented as resulting primarily from climate change.”
An Important Point
“Journalists and activists alike have an obligation to describe environmental problems honestly and accurately, even if they fear doing so will reduce their news value or salience with the public. There is good evidence that the catastrophist framing of climate change is self-defeating because it alienates and polarizes many people. And exaggerating climate change risks distracting us from other important issues including ones we might have more near-term control over.”
Fear Is Used Over And Over
It’s important to note and realize that many previous predictions have not come true. I found an independent journalist who compiled a list of newspaper clippings that claimed doom and extinctions that never came to pass. You can see them Here.
Stress And Anxiety About Terror Threats:
My clients often bring up lingering anxiety about the World Trade Center attacks. This nervousness is maintained by seeing things like armed National Guard soldiers in Grand Central Station. Children experience fear from hearing their parents talk about how we may have more terrorist attacks. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s still important to point out that the fear based news media adds to this significantly. Fear gets ratings.
Those of us in the NY Metro area have the most intimate connection to 9/11. I get that. I live here too, and went through that dark day. I also remember the bravery of First Responders, and the selflessness of citizens. It was a powerful display of compassion and resiliency. Since we’re not used to it, seeing armed National Guard personnel in public spaces can definitely weird a person out. However, their exact purpose is to guard Americans on American soil.
Terror Attacks – The Hard Data
Researching terror attacks also proved challenging. How statistics are presented aligns with the ideological slant of who is presenting them. Because of that, I focused on statistics for deadly attacks motivated only by ideological/religious reasons. If 9/11 is included in years studied, the numbers are very different. The Cato Institute shows:
Sources: Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland
RAND Corporation, ESRI, and author’s calculations.
According to Politifact:
While all of this is just bad, the threat of deadly attacks has dropped enormously since 9/11. Reason.com put out great perspective giving statistics in one of their pieces:
“Your risk of being killed in a jihadist terror attack in the last 15 years amounted to roughly 1 in 2,640,000. Even if you stretch the period back to include 9/11, the risk would still just have been 1 in 110,000. Your lifetime risk of dying in a lightning strike is 1 in 161,000, and your chance of being killed in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 114.”
A great take away from all this is that a calm, rational, and reasonable attitude is important for peace and safety. Extremism is unacceptable. That matters also with your own reactions.
Stress And Anxiety About School Shootings:
Teachers and students often speak to me about having to be vigilant and on-guard in the school system. Being preoccupied with thoughts about protecting from an armed intruder overshadows the ability to teach and learn. I can deeply empathize. I have a child in the school system too. This is not a new phenomenon. School shootings have been happening for over a hundred years. The first recorded school shooting in the United States took place in 1840, when a law student shot and killed his professor at the University of Virginia.
Statistics Can Be Manipulated
We’re typically aware of the horrific rampage of a current or former student who causes mass casualties. Then we’re presented with frightening statistics. What we’re not told is the statistics include many other factors. The San Diego Union-Tribune clarifies:
“Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group that started tracking school shootings, following the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012, reports there is an average of about one a week in the U.S.”
“That number, however, should be put into the proper context. The nonprofit defines a school shooting as any incident involving the discharge of a bullet on campus, and also includes suicides and rounds fired off campus that came onto school grounds. The data includes colleges and universities.”
Fear Gets Clicks And Ratings
A March 01, 2018 article in The Intelligencer makes the claim that there is no epidemic of ‘Mass School Shootings’. The author believes it’s an issue that needs serious attention, and reforms enacted. But, he strongly disagrees with manipulating emotions to suit the agenda of an organization, with the consequence of causing panic. In his own words:
“American children do not “risk their lives” when they show up to school each morning — or at least, not nearly as much as they do whenever they ride in a car, swim in a pool, or put food in their mouths (an American’s lifetime odds of dying in a mass shooting committed in any location is 1 in 11,125; of dying in a car accident is 1 and 491; of drowning is 1 in 1,133; and of choking on food is 1 in 3,461). Criminal victimization in American schools has collapsed in tandem with the overall crime rate, leaving U.S. classrooms safer today than at any time in recent memory.”
The CDC also tracks this issue with The School-Associated Violent Death Surveillance System (SAVD-SS). It monitors school-associated violent deaths across the U.S. Information is collected each year from media databases and law enforcement officials. The following graph shows years with increased incidents, but not a steady increase.
The statistics show a low risk. But, this particular issue still has a greater psychological impact on people, because it hits close to home for so many. I see it shining a glaring light on the importance of good mental health. Resilient secure people don’t do this. People that don’t hold onto hatred and resentment, and have worked out their issues won’t commit monstrous acts.
Coping – Learn To Control Stress And Anxiety:
In my group practice, we help clients every day to cope with stress and anxiety. Every session is tailored to the unique personality and emotional burdens of each person. That’s only possible through the pleasure and honored privilege of being able to form trusting and caring relationships with people. The dynamic nature of face to face therapy is the most effective. Because it’s customized to the individual in real time, it’s impossible to generalize all causes and solutions for a person’s anxiety. However, there are common reasons, and tried and true methods that help with coping.
Stress And Anxiety Is Real, But Temporary
Stress and anxiety are real feelings, but they’re not permanent. We help our clients understand that emotions are like clouds that come and go. Assess how stress and anxiety manifests in your life. Do they have a common trigger? Are they based on a real present danger, or some previously stressful episode? Is it because of information from other people or media sources? It’s important to identify why these feelings spike, and then challenge their validity. This consciously retrains the brain and emotions to know if it’s real, ghosts from the past, or reactions to manipulation/fear mongering.
Winning Means Never Give Up
Taming the beast takes time and commitment. If these emotions are getting out of hand, you need to immediately use relaxation techniques. Three powerful and easy actions are deep calming breathing, journaling, and meditation. Distraction is very useful. Switch the channel in your mind to a happy memory, a peaceful scene, or something important you need to take care of. One client shared this gem; ride the wave until the anxiety subsides.
You Can Have Peace Of Mind
As we reinforce for our clients, understand you are separate from the anxiety, and that the anxiety does not define you. Be aware of the feelings both emotionally and physically. Don’t avoid or run away from anxiety. That just gives it more power over you. Instead, gently acknowledge it, and use all the coping skills you possess. This is a key teaching we use with our clients. We reassure them that it is a feeling that will pass. It is typically a warning about something from the past that is not currently happening in reality. You’ve likely gotten through other tough experiences. Recall and draw strength from those past situations, and challenge the anxiousness burdening you in the present. You can learn to manage stress and anxiety.
I hope this has helped you. We are partners in helping our community to manage stress and teach resilience. If you would like more information about this topic, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.