For many Americans, the recent election and the months that preceded it stirred angst and unsettling emotions as it seemed to drag on for far too long.
As we turn the corner and head into 2021 with more political certainty, we are still tasked with managing the lingering stress that accompanied a year filled with constant hurdles. Consider the direct and indirect pains associated with the pandemic, rising social anxiety on topics like police brutality and income inequality, stunning economic hardships, amid a host of other personal and political issues that have become front and center.s.
Just thinking about any one of these topics, let alone all of them, can cause spikes in cortisol levels for even the most resilient and deliberate among us.
This begs the question: how widespread is the problem of mental health in a post-election and ongoing pandemic world?
To investigate the degree of stress facing many Americans, 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 consider what solutions should look like.
“This catastrophic year has just leveled us as a country, and it has revealed something new to us: we’ve never been so collective in our emotional pain,” said Tamar Blue, founder and CEO of MentalHappy.
Political partisanship, regional tribalism and a diverging sense of what accurate medical information looks like are all components of stress across the nation. For many, these are just stressors associated with the election. It’s no surprise that these things, paired with an ongoing health crisis and lingering social unrest, is taking a toll on many Americans.
Recent data from the American Psychological Association (APA) illustrates just how deep-rooted some of our mental health challenges currently are.
According to the APA report, compiled before the election, nearly 80 percent of Gen Z adults describe the future of the country as a significant source of stress in their life. Furthermore, more than two-thirds of Gen Z adults say the recent presidential election was a source of stress.
With the coronavirus pandemic still front and center for many Americans, 78 percent of adults said the pandemic is a “significant source of stress,” with large numbers of adults reporting increased cases of mood swings, unexpected bouts of anger, and screaming and yelling at loved ones.
“We are families grieving a quarter-million COVID deaths. We are communities fighting for our lives to demand that our law enforcement uphold 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 maybe a little bit safer. We are stressed-out and overworked parents, walking away from ambitious careers because we can’t manage without childcare,” Blue said.
For people who identify as Black or African American, the challenges of mental health are often even more pressing.
Prior to the pandemic, according to data from the National Institute of Health (NIH), adult African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than their white counterparts.
Knowing that large populations within the Black community have been hit disproportionately with hardships associated with job losses and access to adequate healthcare, it’s easy to see how statistics like these can become even starker.
Concerns about healthcare ranked highly for most Americans during the election cycle. Consequently, new questions will surface about how new members of government, across all branches, will support or oppose topics impacting the uninsured, senior, and at-risk populations.
Mental health-specific legislation and the corresponding financial support needed to make programs successful vary widely by state and city. Historically, leaders and administrations from America’s two dominant political parties have both been accused of not doing enough to address the mental health crisis across the country.
So what are the tactical actions we can all take to navigate towards better mental health now?
On its website, the American Psychological Association shares some interesting details and research-backed best practices on how parents can better support their children, how employers can better support their employees, and how we can all collectively support each other.
While the formal list of support recommendations from the APA is much more exhaustive, here are a few that surfaced as helpful reminders for you to apply in your family, community, or organization:
- Creating safe spaces for people to share their thoughts and burdens
- Encouraging safe means of socialization
- Identifying ways to celebrate milestones and accomplishments of all sizes
- Finding new opportunities and projects to explore that are closely aligned with your personal interests and hobbies
- Generally being more flexible about work/school expectations
While some of these suggestions are seemingly obvious, many of us can probably acknowledge that we don’t intentionally drive towards these activities often enough.
As a reminder for how to shift your behaviors in moments of stress more frequently—and to become more resilient and positive in the long term—the MentalHappy team created a helpful mental practice called ‘Let Go and Allow’ that encourages people who feel overwhelmed to drive a change in actions and perspectives.
Amy Leo, the company’s Chief Psychologist, emphasizes focusing on being aware of what’s in your control versus what’s not.
“Letting go is not about giving up, it’s about creating space. Anytime something is added in life, we first need to make space for it, and to do that requires letting go of what no longer serves. We discard the things that bring us down emotionally, like speaking ill of others, for example, with things that lift us up like positive self-talk and seeing the best in others. These are things that we all have a degree of power over. Letting go means allowing your heart to open, letting something shift inside of you.”
Will 2021 bring about a renewed sense of positive mental health and less stress? It’s undoubtedly too early to tell.
However, as we get closer to exiting a tumultuous year, we can all find motivation in knowing that we are in this together. Furthermore, there is an extraordinary number of organizations out there working to tackle the wide-ranging and complex set of problems associated with mental health and life’s difficulties.
Seek them out.
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