How to reduce your anxiety about events beyond your control

Leslie Alderman, LCSW, is a psychologist in Brooklyn.

One of my patients showed up to a virtual psychotherapy session last week looking tired. She has always been ambitious and worried about injustice. During this session, she sighed as she spoke of a meeting in which her colleagues complained of unfair treatment. “I don’t know why they bother to be disturbed, when there is nothing important,” she said.

I was worried about her disengaging. But then one of the colleagues looked exhausted. She has spent the pandemic helping her third- and fourth-grade students at remote school while trying to get her small business going. She confided to me: “I didn’t follow the war in Ukraine at all, I simply don’t have the bandwidth.”

To an unusual degree, people are exhausted.

During the spring of 2020, when the pandemic began, the question my patients asked was, “When do you think things will return to normal?” Now, no one is talking to me about getting back to normal. There is an unspoken acknowledgment that the chaos we are going through may be with us for a long time.

Patients who were worried about national and world events and were visibly terrified during pandemicNow he looks tired. The George Floyd murder They were horrific, and mass shootings became increasingly common. Now it looks like we’re all in a relentless game of whack-a-mole, but in this case, rodents pose existential threats.

I notice that many of my patients suffer from a lack of optimism, and they are overwhelmed by it about important issues beyond their control.

I call it “fatigue of hope”.

People are tired of hoping that the pandemic will end, that the war in Ukraine will end, that the mass shootings can be brought under control, and that our government can tackle these urgent crises. Two in 10 Americans said they trust the government in Washington “always” or “most of the time” to do the right thing. 2022 Pew Research Center Poll.

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Symptoms of this fatigue are feeling anxious, upset, or giving up.

“People have a lot of hardship — the coronavirus has done us a lot. Now they are insecure about the state of the world,” said Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, who has been studying the psychology of risk and decision-making for more than 60 years.

Therapists struggle to help. We try to instill a sense of hope in our patients: that they feel better, that they have the ability to act, that their disastrous thoughts may actually be exaggerated. But when a patient bemoans climate change and wonders if they should have children, it’s a challenge.

It’s tempting, at times, to sympathize with them – but it’s not productive. I try to validate their concerns and then explore what that means for them personally.

Our nervous systems are not designed for this

Many problems threaten our basic sense of security. Will fires destroy my community, are my children safe in school, can there be nuclear war?

“I see a lot of people ‘going through the motions of life’ but because they don’t know what to do in life, how to stay safe, how to control anything or make a difference to anything, how to be a Psychoanalytic Psychoanalysis in New York City:

Humans need to feel that they have a certain degree of control. When you lose a person’s sense of security, depression and anxiety can set in. Our nervous systems are simply not designed to handle many crises at once.

No wonder that 33 percent of Americans reported symptoms of depression and anxiety this summer, up from just 11 percent who reported these symptoms in 2019.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Family Pulse Survey.

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Wading through seemingly irreparable issues can lead to anxious paralysis, but there is hope.

Slovic, whose website said, Mercy account, highlights the obstacles to human decision-making. “We are not powerless.”

These are some of the tips I give to my patients.

Take a break from the news. scroll They can be addictive and amplify the tragic nature of events. In one study, researchers found that those who were immersed in the news of the Boston Marathon bombing several hours a day a week After the event they experienced a higher acute stress than the individuals who were at the scene of the accident. “We expect that the pictorial nature of the coverage and the repetition of those images cause severe distress,” said Roxanne Cohen-Silver, senior author of the study and distinguished professor of psychological sciences, public health, and medicine at the University of California. in Irvine.

I advise patients who are depressed by the headlines to only read the news once a day, turn off alerts on their phones and, if possible, check social media in moderation.

take care of yourself. I tell my patients: “You have to be in a good fighting position to deal with the current turmoil.” This means boosting your resilience by taking care of your nervous system (sleep well, eat well, and exercise wisely) and engage in life-affirming activities.

Focus on the present. Get in the habit of establishing yourself in the here and now. Worrying about the future is not helpful.

Try a breathing exercise. Taking a few deep breaths – for example, inhaling to a count of five and exhaling to a count of five – will help calm your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response) and reduce your anxiety.

When I offer deep breathing exercises, some of my patients can be skeptical, as if I am introducing some kind of woo-woo, a fresh mumbo jumbo. But I remind them that the exercises are based on science. They usually mention that at least the breath gives them something to do when they feel their heart rate pick up.

Think about your victories. Remind yourself of what’s working well in your life – whether it’s your job, your friendships, or Raising group of houseplants I was raised during the epidemic.

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Be your own therapist. Ask yourself, what specifically do I despair of and why? Being able to put your frustrations in words can help you feel less emotional and better able to process information rationally.

take action. Anxiety does not help an individual’s mental health, but taking action does. Look around your community. Perhaps your local playground would benefit from a basketball court, or your church or synagogue could sponsor a refugee family. When people get involved with local issues, they have a renewed sense of optimism.

Join forces with a friend. Choose a reason. There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations dedicated to addressing some of the most pressing challenges on the planet. Donate money to an inspiring organization or volunteering.

Slovic offers this advice: “Think about what you can do instead of what you can’t do.”

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