How to Keep Your Sanity in an Era of Divisive Politics, a 24/7 News Cycle and a Devastating New Tax Bill
Political anxiety is taking a toll on people’s mental health more than it normally does, ironically sending people to pricey-ish professionals and filling prescriptions that, ironically, their insurance may no longer cover.
image via Flickr
The major takeaway of the GOP’s tax bill, which was debated for all but like five minutes with scribbles all over it, is that we’re all going to slowly die without healthcare and that the rich keep getting richer. It’s even worse if you’re a college student.
It’s kind of hard to go completely tone deaf on something as major as your personal financial security, which is tied up, for many people, in their feelings of safety, emotional security, even their personal relationships. The worry and anxiety is taking a toll on people’s mental health more than it normally does, ironically sending people to pricey-ish professionals and filling prescriptions that their insurance may no longer cover.
“If someone makes little money and their job and benefits are uncertain, that is an entirely different impact children of parents who experience this impact grow up with the knowledge that income and benefits are uncertain and a constant strain. It becomes and underlying trauma in the home,” Scott Dehorty, Executive Director at Maryland House Detox, Delphi Behavioral Health, told VICE Impact. “The anticipatory anxiety is what impacts most people.”
According to Dehorty, financial concerns impact mental health in many ways,such as depression, anxiety, obsessiveness, irritability, poor sleep, limited recreation, and marital discord are among them. A contributing factor in today’s climate is the uncertainty of the future, especially for those whose income and benefits are unsteady and inconsistent. In fact, he says, sometimes living in these circumstances and the anticipatory anxiety that comes with them can make for a traumatic domestic environment for the children who grow up in a household like this one.
"It's like every time you pick up your phone or log in to Twitter or Facebook or look at anything in the media you're just asking to be punched in the fucking face.”
“Imagine struggling with anxiety and then having additional fears about your ability to support yourself financially and your access to healthcare,” Julie Barthels, a clinical social worker practicing in Illinois. Told VICE Impact. “Not having access to healthcare means you potentially lose access to your therapist, psychiatrist, and prescription benefits. It’s huge if you are already drowning in a sea of anxiety.”
Rich Bracken, a financial marketing and social media expert who has worked with national law firms and Fortune 100 corporations, expressed his disdain for what he feels is now a daily routine of reading about closed-door meetings and items being snuck into a new bill that next to no one likes anyway. Even this polite dismantling of the bill by Suzan Delbene, a Democratic representative from Washington, has to have anyone with an objective view wondering, “How is this supposed to be helping the already struggling middle and lower classes?”
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“What percentage of the population benefits from tax breaks for personal jet ownership instead of the lack of ability to write off tax breaks for people earning under six figures, including teachers, firefighters and others?” he says. “’I have seen everyone from corporate employees to small business owners feeling the pressure of rising costs and an unpredictable market, which causes stress on top of the already established stress. “
He continued, ”Furthering the problem, people now have to anticipate rising healthcare costs due to legislation and the threat of rising taxes and eliminated tax breaks on the middle class; CBS Moneywatch reported back in January that most families in America could not sustain a more than $500 emergency expense.”
"I find myself watching an inordinate, embarrassing amount of streaming TV, and I'm not keeping up with my reading like I should because it's too overwhelming, too exhausting at times."
“I cannot imagine being an individual, making $50,000 or less, with a serious health condition, who voted for Trump’s promises, only to now realize that you’ve been likely sent on a one-way ticket to bankruptcy, or worse, death,” Bracken told VICE Impact. “Economic pressure has mounted continually throughout the year. Social media has played a major role in sharing this information at a rapid pace which continually stresses and depresses those who see the updates come through. Instant anxiety.”
Elesa Zehndorfer, PhD, says that uncertainty raises the stress hormone cortisol, leading to raised stress levels that send people down a path of risking addiction to checking the news. The problem with social media, she continued, is that you cannot control what you will see when you wake up, or when you are trying to relax.
“A friend of a friend posting a pro-tax and pro-Trump tweet, which makes you immediately fractious and angry; a surprise comment on your post that you didn't expect, upregulating adrenaline and giving you that shaky, upset feeling -- This is not something that you cannot control or experience in a positive way in your leisure time,” she told VICE impact. “I literally do not use social media as a result of this and it is no surprise that the American Psychological Association (APA) now blame social media for a massive increase in stress levels amongst Americans since the 2016 election. “
Money, she says, can have the same lure as a drug or other vices that get us into trouble, potentially leading us to make irrational, short-term choices that are often very bad for our wealth, as well as our health.
But even if you don’t get involved or turn off social media, it’s still hard not to be aware of the general energy in the air.
“It can be very stressful to watch,” Zehndorfer said. “It pushes rhetoric through the roof across all media outlets, and makes discussion inescapable. Which is damaging on a number of levels, particularly when our social media is flooded with it, as you literally cannot switch off.”
Michael Stahl, a Queens-based freelance journalist who's covered peoples' reactions to the Trump phenomenon since before the election, says he thinks the Trump presidency has slowly been wearing the country out, which might have been by design.
“I can no longer say, ‘Well at least he's not getting anything done.’ Now he is and he's really hurting the country. Personally, I find myself watching an inordinate, embarrassing amount of streaming TV, and I'm not keeping up with my reading like I should because it's too overwhelming, too exhausting at times,” Stahl told VICE Impact. “I'm still relatively locked in to what's going because as a journalist I have to be. But it's like every time you pick up your phone or log in to Twitter or Facebook or look at anything in the media you're just asking to be punched in the fucking face.”
So what do we do?
“One way of safeguarding your mental health a little is to find a hobby that you can get your thrills from (we all have a vice!). Taking a few minutes wherever possible to sit back, close your eyes and listen to some familiar, positive music,” Zehndorfer said. “Given that we are all predisposed to seek out pleasure, we also need to get our dopamine hit from somewhere. Exercise is by far the best way of seeking out a dopamine source.”
“What percentage of the population benefits from tax breaks for personal jet ownership instead of the lack of ability to write off tax breaks for people earning under six figures, including teachers, firefighters and others?”
Clinical Psychologist Dr. John Mayer says that because uncertainty causes anxiety, action the antidote and can be empowering. “Being active in your local and national politics helps remedy that anxiety because you will work toward changing the uncertainty, thus lowering your anxiety,” he said. “Communicate with your elected officials, but don’t think of your communication as a ‘confrontation.’ Your messages to your legislators are giving them needed information.”
It’s easier than you think: you can email them, voice mail, write a letter, use social media. Finding them is also fairly easy by using a site like Common Cause under the Find My Elected Officials page.
Bracken also suggests being proactive about budgeting.
“With a vast array of budgeting tools, more and more Americans are turning to stricter financial self control to build their wealth and live free of the stress of debt. Apps such as the Mint Budgeting App by Intuit is a great example of a real time financial tracker to let you know where you stand on all major expenses. Removing impulse buys and tracking your available funds in real time will help relieve undue stress,” he says.
Also, he added, while it sounds counterproductive to the point of avoiding the stress of the government, there are many options for safe investing to protect and grow your money.
“Having the proper mix of bonds and low risk stocks can position you to build a foundation that will be there for emergencies or long-term security. If you’re not sure where to start, consult a financial advisor instead of sorting through internet advice.”
Smaller ways to soothe your finance-related nerves—limit your time on social media, since so much of what worries us is speculation based on the influx of information we’re assaulting with every day. Try a smartphone app like Offtime, Moment, and Space (this one claims to learn your emotional triggers and collect data to catch you in a self-destructive act ). that help you limit the amount of time you spend on your phone (kind of like a bartender cutting you off).