For many Americans, the recent election and the months leading up to it sparked anguish and unsettling emotions, as it seemed to drag on for far too long.
As we turn the corner and approach 2021 with more political certainty, we remain tasked with dealing with the lingering stress that has accompanied a year filled with constant obstacles. Consider the direct and indirect pains associated with the pandemic, growing social anxiety over topics such as police brutality and income inequality, mind-boggling economic hardship, amid a host of other personal and political issues that have become central concerns.
Just thinking about any of these topics, let alone all of them, can cause cortisol levels to spike, even for the most resilient and deliberate of us.
This begs the question: How big is the mental health problem in a current post-election and pandemic world?
To study the level of stress many Americans face, I connected with MentalHappy, a mental health and peer support platform. Together, we discussed some of the factors that contribute to stress and dug into the data to examine what the solutions should look like.
“This catastrophic year has just brought us up to speed as a country, and it has revealed something new to us: We have never been so collective in our emotional pain,” said Tamar Blue, Founder and CEO of MentalHappy.
Political partisanship, regional tribalism, and a divergent perception of what accurate medical information looks like are all stressors across the country. For many, these are just stressors associated with the election. It’s no surprise that these things, coupled with an ongoing health crisis and lingering social unrest, weigh heavily on many Americans.
Recent data from the American Psychological Association (APA) illustrates how deeply entrenched some of our mental health issues are today.
According to the APA report, compiled before the election, nearly 80% of Generation Z adults describe the country’s future as a major source of stress in their lives. Additionally, more than two-thirds of Generation Z adults say the recent presidential election has been a source of stress.
With the coronavirus pandemic still at the forefront for many Americans, 78% of adults said the pandemic was a “significant source of stress,” with large numbers of adults reporting an increase in cases of mood swings, unexpected outbursts of anger and screaming and yelling. your relatives.
“We are families bereaved by a quarter of a million deaths from COVID. We are communities that fight for our lives to demand that our law enforcement agencies respect the rule of law. We are anxious and fearful voters who supported a deeply flawed and dangerous incumbent because he made us feel heard, and perhaps a little more secure. We are stressed, overworked parents who are giving up ambitious careers because we can’t get by without child care, ”said Blue.
For people who identify as black or African American, the mental health challenges are often even more pressing.
Before the pandemic, according to data from the National Institute of Health (NIH), adult African Americans are 20% more likely to report severe psychological distress than their white counterparts.
Knowing that large populations within the black community have been disproportionately affected by the challenges associated with job losses and access to adequate health care, it is easy to see how statistics like these can become even more austere.
Concerns about health care were very important to most Americans during the election cycle. As a result, new questions will arise about how new members of government, in all branches, will support or oppose issues impacting uninsured, elderly and at-risk populations.
Legislation specific to mental health and the financial support needed to ensure the success of programs vary widely from state to state and city to city. Historically, the leaders and administrations of America’s two dominant political parties have both been accused of not doing enough to deal with the mental health crisis nationwide.
So what are some tactical actions we can all take to move towards better mental health now?
On its website, the American Psychological Association shares interesting details and research-based best practices on how parents can better support their children, how employers can better support their employees, and how we can all support each other collectively. .
While the official list of APA support recommendations is much more comprehensive, here are a few that have come out as useful reminders for you to apply in your family, community, or organization:
- Create safe spaces for people to share their thoughts and burdens
- Encourage safe means of socialization
- Identify ways to celebrate milestones and accomplishments of all sizes
- Find new opportunities and projects to explore that closely match your personal interests and hobbies
- Generally be more flexible with regard to professional / academic expectations
While some of these suggestions are seemingly obvious, many of us can probably recognize that we don’t intentionally go into these activities often enough.
To remind you how to change your behaviors in times of stress more frequently and become more resilient and positive in the long run, the MentalHappy team has created a helpful mental practice called ‘Letting Go and Allowing’ that encourages people who are feel overwhelmed to drive a change in actions and outlook.
Amy Leo, the company’s chief psychologist, emphasizes being aware of what you are in control versus what is not.
“Letting go is not giving up, it’s creating space. Whenever something is added in life, we must first make room for it, and in order to do that we must give up what is no longer useful. We reject things that lower us emotionally, like talking badly about others, for example, with things that uplift us like positive self-talk and seeing the best in others. These are things over which we all have some power. Letting go means allowing your heart to open, letting something move within you.
Will 2021 bring a renewed sense of positive mental health and less stress? It is undoubtedly too early to tell.
However, as we get closer to ending a tumultuous year, we can all find the motivation to know that we are in this situation together. In addition, there are an extraordinary number of organizations working to tackle the large and complex set of issues associated with mental health and life challenges.
Look for them.