Climate Change, Politics and the Pandemic ... Oh My!
Taking in the news these days can feel daunting. It seems like every day brings word of a different COVID variant, a new vendetta between politicians, or further evidence that climate change is far worse and destructive than scientists expected. Yet, avoiding the news can feel like we are shutting our eyes and ears to the horrors of the world. So we read (or watch), and carry the anxiety with us throughout the day.
The constant drone of anxious thoughts swirling in our heads often sounds like this: “Am I going to get sick? What if I inadvertently pass along COVID to my kids or parents? What will happen to my family when the effects of climate change really begin to show? What can I do as just one person to stop it? Is our country going to survive all of the division between parties? Are we just doomed?”
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Americans are feeling more anxious than ever. Recent research conducted by the CDC found that 42% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December 2020, compared to only 11% reporting symptoms of either in 2019 (Vahratian, A. et al, 2021). In December 2020, America was facing arguably the worst surge of the pandemic as well as contentious election results. Anxiety about climate change, politics and the pandemic is very real.
We feel anxiety in proportion to the weight of the issues we are dealing with. COVID was a threat to our existence and the political climate was on the brink of collapse. Climate change has more recently come to the forefront for many people, with the IPCC report sending a dire and urgent message: “Climate change is a code red for humanity”.
Anxiety is our brain’s way of warning us of danger by activating our sympathetic nervous system. With all the new dangers in the world, no wonder our anxiety was and is feeling as threatening and insurmountable as the issues themselves. It also feels like there isn’t enough action being taken, and that individual action is fruitless.
Replace Anxiety with Action
How do we cope with the weight of the world on our shoulders? First, take a breath. As much as the news likes to make us think the world is doomed, it is not. Remember, that doom and gloom reporting gets clicks whereas good news does not. Not to say that there aren’t huge problems going on. There are. There are also people working to solve them. The world won’t end tomorrow, or even for the foreseeable future. Take another breath.
Many of these issues are out of an individual’s control. We cannot worry away climate change, COVID or bad politicians. Here are some ways to replace anxiety with action and feel better:
Vote in local and federal elections for politicians who will enact the vision you want for the future.
Advocate and volunteer for causes that are meaningful to you.
Protest and dissent against causes and laws that you don’t approve of.
Join local groups that support your interests.
Do your part to help recycle, compost, and reduce your carbon footprint. But given that that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, it's not just on you to fight global warming.
Remember that technology is advancing at an exponential rate, and though we may not have answers for problems right now, experts around the globe are working on them. It’s likely that our projections for the world will improve along with these advances in technology.
Look for good news in the world too; whether it be big or small, humans do wonderful acts every day. The Good News Network is a great place to start your search.
Treat others with love and compassion, as we are all in this together.
Protect yourself and your loved ones by wearing masks indoors with people of unknown vaccination status, and get vaccinated if you can.
Add more self-care into your life. Whether it’s bubble baths, meditation, social outreach, therapy, or exercise, we all need more rest and care during this stressful time in history.
Talk to others about your feelings. Grieving the loss that some of these issues create is important.
Keeping It All in Perspective
Remember that although the world seems like it’s on a one-way trip to its doom, we are actually living in one of the most peaceful times in human history. According to The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, the percentage of war deaths in the population is at its lowest ever, and violent deaths and acts are decreasing. The illusion that discontent and violence are rising is mostly due to the rise of the media and the internet.
Related: The Rise of Vicarious Trauma
Bad news is at our fingertips 24/7, and people with bad experiences are more likely to share them than those who had pleasant interactions (just think about Yelp!).
We can’t predict the future, but we can choose to act in a way that facilitates change. Equally important, we can choose to focus on the here and now, expressing gratitude for all the good things in our collective lives.
You don’t have to go this alone.
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