If you’ve been feeling stressed, tense, overwhelmed these past months, you are not alone. A recent survey by American Psychological Association found that Americans are more stressed than we’ve been — or at least since this survey started in 2007. The current political situation, the near-constant news updates, conflicts on social media, and the fear and uncertainty about the future have all created a sea of stress… and some of us are barely keeping our heads above water.
This stress can hit in a lot of different ways. Perfectionist types — prone to obsessive thinking, self-criticism, and anxiety — tend to feel it in the following ways.
If you are prone to anxious ruminating, politics can become one more thing stuck in your brain. You can find yourself obsessively consuming news or social media, and endlessly thinking, thinking, thinking about what’s happening or what might happen next. In the sea of stress, these intrusive thoughts are like a rip tide that can pull you under, and you find yourself unable to focus on anything else or get to sleep.
Solution: Limit news and social media. Set a schedule for when you can read or watch and when you can’t, and stick to it. Use an app to lock yourself out of your phone if you worry you can’t hold yourself to it. Come up with three things you can read, watch, do, or think about instead — things that have nothing to do with politics. Keep a book of short stories on hand, watch an old tv show, plan inventive dishes to cook for friends.
Problem: Feeling powerless
Perfectionists often struggle with self-criticism or feeling “not good enough.” When that combines with politics — especially political activism — the result can sometimes be a sense of powerlessness. No matter how many calls you make or marches you attend, your inner perfectionist voice tells you it’s not enough. You beat yourself up for not doing enough, not being effective enough. Your inner perfectionist might think this criticism is the only way to motivate you to stay active, but in reality, feeling terrible about yourself leads to burnout and apathy.
Solution: Set realistic expectations, and find a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in whatever actions you take. There are a hundred organizations to support, dozens of calls to make, and an impossible number of events to attend. Decide for yourself what is actually realistic, what you can manage. When you accomplish your task for the day or the week, take a moment to feel some satisfaction and pride about what you did. I don’t mean feel full of yourself or think you are saving the world by calling your senator — I mean letting yourself get energized by feeling effective and engaged in something you care about.
If you are sensitive or anxious in general, swimming in the sea of stress is even more exhausting for you than for others. There may not even be specific thoughts running through your head, you may just feel drained by the atmosphere of anxiety around you. The feeling of overwhelm can easily lead to collapse, giving up, or feeling depressed.
Solution: Engage in self care. Know what recharges you and make space for that in your life, so you have energy for action too.