Emotional Health

Anxiety In America’s New Political Climate

Dear Dr. Pat:

I read Women’s Voices’ articles and see that your contributors understand what women in midlife are going through.  I am certain that I am not the only woman in this age and stage who feels as I do, so I hope you can offer some advice that will help me recover from my problem.

I can’t seem to stop worrying.  I am anxious much of the time. It is affecting my job performance, my marriage, and my health. I am in the middle of menopause but was doing reasonably well until the last year when the political climate changed in this country.  With each new event that occurs, my anxiety meter goes through the roof.  I have always been interested in “politics,” have always voted, but didn’t do much else until the end of the summer in 2016 where I joined other women to work in phone banks and took a bus ride to another state to do voter registration work. I will be truthful: I was greatly disappointed in the outcome of our presidential election. Nonetheless, I believed that our democracy was safe, that our system of checks and balances would work, and that the worst that would happen is a move to the right for a period of time by the Federal government.  Nothing had prepared me for what has happened since the election.  I stay up later than I should every night watching the news, reading The Economist, The Atlantic, The New York Times.  Then, I fall into an exhausted sleep, waking up to another day of anxiety.  My menopausal symptoms are much worse:  hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance and daytime exhaustion.  My husband tells me to “just get over this already” and “get back to my life” but his indifference infuriates me.  I worry about losing  the progress for which women and people of color have worked. I am losing hope that we cannot combat the entrenched problems of inequality for people of color, inequality in the workplace, economic inequality, immigration issues, education, and reproductive rights.   I worry about the hatred that has increased among Americans and fear that this hatred will lead to new violence.   I just don’t know what to do anymore.

I have a Type A personality and always had a bit of anxiety that made me work harder at my job to make sure everything was perfect and made me work harder to have a lovely home and marriage.  I never took anything for granted and have been grateful for all that I have.   I have a great job but I work mostly with men and I find that I no longer want to be part of the social life of my peers, which I enjoyed in the past.  This seems to have affected how I am viewed at the company and as we all know, no job is secure. When I was at my last check-up with my doctor, I shared with him how my symptoms have worsened. He offered to write me a prescription for lorazepam so that I could sleep and take it occasionally when I feel really anxious. But, I turned it down because I don’t want to be on meds  that could be addictive. What should I do? I feel like I need to do something to relieve all this anxiety I’m feeling. But, I really don’t want to start popping pills. Is it my menopause that is keeping me from recovering my equilibrium? I need some advice about how to cope before my anxiety really affects my health, my job and my marriage.

Thanks,

Maureen

 

Dear Maureen,

Thank you for writing to us and for sharing that you feel that our contributors offer information that has been helpful to you.

Of course your menopausal symptoms are not making your response to the current political life in America more positive and the stress you describe makes all menopausal symptoms worse.  Do discuss your symptoms with your gynecologist to determine if there is a reason for medical therapy to help manage these symptoms in addition to adding other modalities for stress management, which can help with your anxiety.

Next, I want to assure you that you are not alone. Many people and organizations are evaluating the impact of our current political climate on the emotional and physical health of American citizens.

The American Psychological Association found that more than half of all Americans cited the political climate as a very or somewhat significant source of stress.

“To better understand political stressors and assess any potential for long term effects, APA commissioned an additional survey in 2017 asking Americans to rate the sources of their stress, including the political climate, the future of our nation and the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. This new survey found that between August 2016 and January 2017, Americans’ overall average reported stress level rose from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale. In addition, in the January 2017 survey, more than half of Americans (57 percent) report that the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. Two-thirds (66 percent) say the same about the future of our nation, and nearly half (49 percent) report that the outcome of the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

Almost three-fourths (71 percent) of Americans age 18 to 44 years old report feeling anxious due to the election results, and nearly two-thirds of Americans agree that our current president is causing more people to have anxiety, according to a new study of 2,000 adults commissioned by the health care site CareDash.

Mental health professionals across the country report that patients are having the same issues that you describe and worse. One psychiatrist tweeted: “Where is the ICD 10 diagnosis code for the anxiety caused by Trump?  F43.22X?  I would be using it all the time.”

The ICD-10-CM diagnosis classification system was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is used  in all U.S. health care treatment settings and for coding required for insurance reimbursement. This code, F43.22X is the code for reaction to severe stress and adjustment disorders.

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