We are looking forward to all of the anger and contention going away in just a few weeks.
If only it were so.
The times are so trying in fact that mental health professionals are needing professionals to talk to in order to process all that they are hearing. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that between the pandemic, the election, the social unrest and the general anxiety out there, those people tasked with helping us navigate these tricky waters are over their heads in work.
That drowning sensation facing health care and mental health professionals is no easy fix, mostly because these are serious factors at play. Many people who were already feeling anxious, paranoid or depressed has probably had those feelings exacerbated. Walking those feelings back is tough when there is one challenging issue in play.
All year, there has been an uptick in alcohol and drug use, overdoses, suicides and cases of domestic violence. These are very troubling trends.
Seven Days, the free alternative newspaper based in Burlington, had a cover story this week titled “Peril! Grief! Destruction! Distress! Coping with Sky-High Anxiety in 2020.” Six writers (and one illustrator) provide tangible tools and options for their readers.
Given the way this year has gone, it might not be a bad idea for them to just reprint and redistribute the issue every few weeks. On these pages, in this space, we have discussed similar concerns no fewer than a dozen times in 2020. So far.
One of the most common refrains we — as in all of us — keep witnessing is what feels like an uprising of meanness. Many people want to blame President Trump for this “rules don’t apply” attitude shift. And while many of his actions have fueled bad behavior among some of his supporters, he did not make them angry and contentious overnight. He may be the match that lit the fuse, but the powder keg has been accumulated over a long time — long before this presidency, and certainly long before this election.
Periodicals have devoted a lot of ink to the topic during the past year. Sociologists and psychologists and political scientists all have put forth theories ranging from the devolution of the nuclear family to the rise of poverty to the lack of adequate health care to seismic shifts in how young people are taught in schools (and are attached to screens).
The New Yorker, Harper’s and the Atlantic all have produced long analytical essays in a search for the “why are we the way we are?” “On the Nature of Complicity” and “The Anxious Child” and “How Did It Come To This?” among the titles.
We certainly don’t have the answers. But among those professionals who chronicle and measure trends, we see it too. Last week, an editorial we published about people stealing or damaging signs (and committing crimes to do so) generated actual hate mail. Someone took the time and spent the money in postage to tear up a Black Lives Matter sign and a copy of the newspaper, write out a two-word note and mail it (from Montpelier) to the newspaper.
Likewise, we were made aware of people endorsing a local candidate being bullied and harassed by individuals in their own party. And we have reported this week on a few instances of hate crimes and hate speech, email threats and other forms of intimidation — real, implied and perhaps contrived.
In an article a few weeks ago on American anger that appeared in The Washington Post, there were a few suggestions — “antidotes” to help prevent anger from taking hold: appreciation, affiliation and aspiration.
“Appreciation means paying attention not to what angers you but to things that contribute to positivity in your life. Affiliation means nurturing our relationships. Aspiration means striving to accomplish (outcomes) that are bigger than yourself or that serve other people,” the story noted.
Overall, there are a few everyday things that we should do in order to keep ourselves in check.
First, take care of yourself: Eat right, exercise, do the things that make you happy.
Second, limit media exposure, especially television news, social media and sources that barrage instead of inform.
Watch for signs of your anger and ask yourself: How is this helpful? Basically, just stop and think.
There are plenty of other ways to distract yourself. Maybe even break the cycle by taking action in another, more productive way.
Clearly, tearing ourselves apart and down is not a solution. But just as clear, something needs to change.