Anxiety, Politics, and Climate Change

Many patients and therapists alike are reporting worry about recent developments in the world around us. “The bees are going extinct.” “There is a demagogue on the rise.” “The planet is warming up.” Some people will let their mind even go so far as to worry, that is any of these things winds up in a worst-case-scenario situation, that civilization as we know it can collapse. As far-fetched as it may sound to some, we only have to look on the news to find other places where civilization is not providing its citizens the basic sense of safety that we except from civilization. We don’t even have to leave the border of our country, state or city to find places where citizens don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods. We usually repress the knowledge that we can easily be the person who is homeless, destitute, or the victim of a crime. Same goes for a civilization, like Syria, that has collapsed. We KNOW this could easily be us. That is WHY we tell ourselves that it couldn’t possibly be. When we get daily reminders that it could happen to us, they become harder to ignore. I believe that this is what Martin Luther King Jr. meant, in part, when he said “not one of us is free unless we all are free.” The suffering that we see in the world, and that we are warned may happen to us, does affect us, often on a level of which we are unaware.

Most of us, if all is going well, deal with such worries (aka anxiety) by remaining in what is referred to as “healthy denial.” After all, would we really cross the street or go in the water if all we had in our mind was buses ramming into us or sharks attacking? So we put this stuff out of our minds so that we can go through our daily lives with a belief in our safety, which, by the way, is a prerequisite for enjoying life.

So how do we deal with such “everyday anxiety” that is caused by the realities in the world around us? Well, being honest with those that care about us about how we are feeling is a good start. Sharing how we feel with others may sound cliché, but it works. We feel less alone, we can bounce our ideas off of others, and we can get a reality-check on our ideas. Also it’s important to keep in mind that we only actually need to let worry into the extent that it helps motivate us to fix a problem. No more. So think about it, then think what you can do about it, then try to forget it until you need or want to problem-solve some more. Forgetting, at least temporarily about a problem that we can do much about, will allow us sleep, and enjoy our day. So, in brief, talking about it, doing what you can about it, then forgetting it so you can enjoy your life are the three steps that I recommend in dealing with such “everyday” anxiety.

Some caveats, however: If someone is sharing their worries with you, don’t give them immediate advice, unless they are asking for it, and do not, under any circumstances, say or imply that they should feel differently than they do. This only serves to make the person feel worse, be less apt to share their feelings, and take in the message that their feelings are wrong. This usually happens when someone is stuck in how they are feeling and the listener doesn’t know what else to do besides tell them to stop feeling what they are feeling. If someone is truly stuck, this may be a time to recommend a professional. This article predicted that as climate change continues to increases and shape the planet, mental health issues will rise significantly. All the more reason to learn to be attentive to those around you.
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