Emotional Health

Anxiety In America’s New Political Climate

There are real options for dealing with your concerns about the current American political climate and making your life better again.

  1. First, recognize that America wasn’t perfect before the new administration arrived and don’t fall prey to romanticizing the past 40 years in this country. Income inequality, entire groups of people left behind without training or education beyond high school and no jobs for them, substance abuse epidemics, hate crimes, police brutality, racism, attacks on women’s rights to reproductive choice, homelessness–all of these and more existed before the last election.
  2. Take a deep breath and decide to work on your marriage before you find that a difference in political opinion has created a divide too wide to cross.  Take a break from discussing political issues with your husband. Save those conversations for like-minded people. Resume some activities with him that gave you both joy and give time a chance.
  3. Remember that you are resilient.  You manage marriage, home and a successful career.  This takes intelligence, coping skills and determination.  Use these skills now to become involved in groups that are working to affect change.
  4. Be active. Write letters, demonstrate, lobby Congress. Focus on positive changes not just the things that have made you anxious.
  5. Make a list of all the things that you fear will happen and what the probability is of them actually happening. Choose the things on your list that have some real chance of occurring and make these your focus of activism.
  6. Learn to listen empathically to those who have different cultural and political views.  Find a way to meet those who feel passionately that their voices were never heard.  Imagine what it is like to live a life without hope for a decent job, without hope for advancement for your children, without support for treatment for addiction, without hope for your community to ever grow and prosper. This election affected many of us, especially women, terribly.  But, we learned that our country is made up of many many constituents.  And everyone, potentially, has a vote and a voice.
  7. Be hopeful: The outcome of this election has forced many of us to think about our lack of real civic involvement, to come to terms with what we want most for ourselves and our fellow citizens.  We have an opportunity now to have meaningful conversations at the personal and community level.  Remember, “all politics is local.”  But, the local only improves if we are all involved.

Dr. Megan Riddle, our medical advisory board psychiatry consultant, will discuss anxiety disorders, your concerns about your symptoms and offer advice about ways to cope.

 

Dr. Riddle Responds:

Dear Maureen,

It seems like this is something you have been managing on your own for quite a while and I am glad you are seeking help as it sounds quite miserable to be dealing with this much anxiety all the time.

Anxiety can come in many flavors. For some, it takes the form of excessive worry or irritability while for others the symptoms are predominantly physical with headaches, tight shoulder muscles and stomach aches. Anxiety can run the spectrum from actually helpful — at low levels, giving you that extra edge to do your best under pressure — to completely debilitating. You describe that, in the past, anxiety has been a component of your perfectionism and it is not uncommon for people with high levels of perfectionism to also have elevated levels of anxiety. When we try to distinguish between what makes one person perpetually anxious while another is laid back, there appears to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including the way you were raised and life experiences.  People who are anxious have been shown to have increased levels of activity in the amygdala, the fear center of the brain. Studies have also shown that a higher number of traumatic life events is associated with elevated levels of anxiety.

Up to one in ten individuals are thought to meet criteria for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) at some point in their lifetime. Having GAD consists of having excessive, difficult to manage worry that causes problems in a person’s life and occurs on most days, lasting for at least six months. GAD is twice as common in women as in men and it is often is not an isolated condition, but is rather an addition to other issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, or panic disorder.

Anxiety does more than just make you feel miserable and limit your daily activities — it can also have very real effects on your physical health. Anxiety has been shown to worsen heart disease, for example.

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  • Sally Bahner August 30, 2018 at 11:21 am

    I’ve thought a lot about this article after I read it the other day. So many of us feel the same way — anxious, sleepless, depressed — and it goes to show you just how toxic this presidency is, not only for its policies, but for its affect on our daily lives. It can’t be medicated away. I have visions of many [male] doctors chuckling behind their desks about women being upset about who is running the country. I’m 68 and cannot remember a time when people were so emotionally affected by the political climate.

    Reply
  • Karen Cox August 27, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Thank you for the letter and answers to the letter about anxiety since the election. I have felt almost exactly like the writer and your answers have given me
    great guidance. I’m calling my doctor this morning and hopefully will start on a path where I will be more able to cope.

    Reply