Many of us are one wobbly-wheeled grocery cart encounter away from arm-barring someone’s maskless, selfish face. Especially here in California, where heat, wildfires, high Covid rates, and a hyper-contentious looming election add further anxiety, anarchy, and possibly more monster truck rallies into our collective future.
Like you, I’m facing notable levels of grief and apathy – as indicated by my 2 am binge-watching of Cobra Kai, eating weed gummies, and hitting snooze until lunchtime. Then taking a nap around 4:00. I even lack the energy to thumb scroll and judge people on social media. I’m filled with a general malaise where I can’t focus on anything beyond licking a stamp or overeating.
With over a month of West Coast wildfires, leaving the house means chewing through the chowder thick, carcinogenic air. It has even crept into the house where I have to regularly rinse my eyes with cold water. There is no escape beyond driving hundreds of miles east. Which I’m too apathetic to do. I often find myself standing in a window searching for the glowing orange orb of a sun through the claustrophobic haze. When I find it, I stare too long.
With all the adverse events unfolding, I’ve traded the great outdoors for brief, masked interactions at Trader Joe’s or Petco. My hikes replaced by long, boring spin bike rides and carpet push-ups.
I’m hearing a common theme about not just a general malaise, but something more concerning: An overall feeling of hopelessness. It’s not normal for so many Americans to feel this anxious or depressed.
A third of Americans are now showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression.
For every 100 American adults, 34 show symptoms of anxiety, depression … or, both. The data is directly from a Census study titled, Measuring Household Experiences during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.
Here’s the drop-kicker: Deep within that 20-minute survey, savvy U.S. officials included four questions taken from a form used by physicians to screen patients for depression and anxiety. The responses provide an alarming view into the country’s mental health after months of distress, seclusion, unemployment, and doubt.
The Census Bureau finding supports the mounting evidence of an increasing mental health crisis among Americans. Sadly, experts say that without intervention, the nation will experience a rise in suicides, substance abuse and overdose deaths.
And, what is our government’s response to this looming mental health catastrophe? Zero f#cks given. When asked how they would follow-up with respondents to the Census Bureau survey, the CDC said in an emailed statement:
“It is not feasible, nor would it be appropriate, to provide any health advice to respondents on the basis of their responses.”
The government actually has a responsibility to address the problems revealed by the survey. “If you measure a problem, presumably it’s because you want to do something about it,” said Maria A. Oquendo, former president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Doctors don’t diagnose patients with cancer only to send them back into the asbestos mine.
So, why should you feel hopeful?
Go easy on yourself. It would be weird for you to not feel jacked-up over all that’s happening. Current events are heavy and creating an unavoidable wake of despair for the majority.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, says that re-imagining happiness is almost hard-wired into Americans’ DNA. “Human beings are remarkably resilient. There’s lots and lots of evidence that we adapt to everything. We move forward.”
Source the humor! It’s always there. As Erma Bombeck once said, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” It seems personally blasphemous to laugh at our current misfortunes. But sourcing the humor is precisely what we need to do in order to cope. When you are overwhelmed by tragic events, humor is a useful defense mechanism. Time may not enable us to laugh at everything. But, tragedies and humor go together like cashiers and plastic sneeze guards.
When facing adversity such as illness or even death, humor serves as a buffer. In fact, people who think about death are actually funnier. The notion is appropriately called Terror Management Theory. Studies suggest that humor functions as a natural and often effective means of down-regulating stressful or traumatic experiences
Humor is embedded in tragedy, pain and struggle in ways we cannot grasp. And possibly, humor is also what will save us in all this mess. If not, NASA said there’s a 1 in 240 chance that an asteroid the size of a small car will hit Earth the night before the election
**Anxiety Disclaimer: Don’t worry. Asteroids of this size burn-up in the atmosphere long before they hit our ground. This won’t be the thing that does us in.