You know the feeling: your heart races, your leg won’t stay still while you’re seated, never-ending butterflies in your stomach. But this time it’s not because you are about to speak in public or ask your boss for a raise. This time it’s different. The unease has been sticking around and you can’t seem to shake it.
Welcome to anxiety. As mental illnesses go, it’s nothing new. In fact, it’s the most common one in America, impacting about 40 million adults. If you’re reading this in a room with at least five other people, one of you is likely living with it.
But something else is happening. Americans are struggling with anxiety at an alarming rate. According to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, 62 percent of us are stressed out about the current political climate. While we’re a country divided, that’s a number that crosses party lines. Further, 64 percent of us are worried about work and money, 63 percent fear for our health, and nearly half are worried about the economy. To top it all off, 69 percent (!) say “the nation’s future causes them stress.”
I thought we had been making America great again for the last two-and-a-half years, so why all the worry? For one, beyond the yelling and screaming at each other, people don’t like uncertainty – it’s a huge driver of anxiety – and we have had a long list of uncertainties over the last couple of years.
Is our president in cahoots with a foreign adversary?
Will he be impeached?
Will we go to war with North Korea? Or Iran?
For the 63 percent of Americans who are worried about their health, what will the system look like for them as President Trump and the GOP continue their war on the Affordable Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”)? What is the party’s actual plan to protect people at their most vulnerable?
While the economy continues to improve under Trump, as it has been steadily for the last 10 years, Americans still aren’t at ease following the Great Recession. The nonstop happy talk and rallies isn’t changing the fact that people either are not feeling it in a meaningful way or don’t trust that the decade of recovery following the Bush administration will continue.
Even worse, there’s evidence to back up their economic anxiety: gas prices are on the rise and we are now mired in a fierce trade war with China with no clear end in sight. “Sticking it to China” with tariffs sounds great until you realize those costs are handed down to American consumers. And, with the Chinese retaliating against us with tariffs of their own, we’re selling fewer of our things to them, impacting American businesses, jobs and paychecks.
Putting a clear plan in place and focusing on that is a key strategy for managing anxiety. So, what is the president’s plan? Does he have one he can articulate to the American people to help tamp down anxiety or is he just shooting from the hip and waiting to “see what happens?”
And when it comes to the 62 percent of people whose anxiety is being fed by the toxic political climate, are leaders on either side willing to do what it takes to bring civility back to the political discussion?
We’re One Nation, Under Anxiety, but we don’t have to live this way. While President Trump is a major force behind the anxiety related to the issues described above, he’s not the only one to blame. He’s also not the one we can look toward to fix it. It’s up to us.
It’s up to us to remind leaders in Congress – on both sides – to focus on the issues that matter to the American people. Yes, Congress must still execute its Constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities but it must also continue working toward solutions to our most pressing issues. That’s not just the House of Representatives, but in the Senate as well, where the Senate Republican Leader has traded in his legacy as a legislator and for the title of obstructionist by opposing anything that comes from the House, rather than trying to find common ground.
If our elected leaders choose to take a different path and continue with the status quo, then it’s up to us to give them the boot. In my view, Trump had his chance and has so far blown it but it’s not too late for him to put on his big boy pants and get to work. Congress can find ways to turn it around as well if they just focus less on the party victories and prioritize the people they were elected to represent. Maybe then, we could all breathe a sigh of relief.