High anxiety these days

Ukraine war, nuclear war talk, the lingering pandemic and inflation are overloading American minds

PORT ORCHARD — A brutal war in Ukraine and Russian threats of nuclear war against the West have heightened the anxiety experienced by many Americans who already have been impacted by the seemingly endless COVID-19 virus, a Capitol Hill insurrection, and economic inflation.

It goes without saying that the stress Americans are suffering doesn’t compare with the grief and pain now burdening Ukrainians. Who can forget the images of a pregnant woman being carried from a bombed maternity hospital, only to later die (along with her baby), and the carriages left by Polish mothers at a border train station for their arriving Ukrainian counterparts?

The annus horribilis that 2022 has become has battered the psyche of Americans and is catching the attention of mental healthcare professions across America — and Kitsap County.

A recent poll by the American Psychological Association claims that almost three-quarters of adults — about 73% — have admitted that the number of crises now facing the world has left them feeling overwhelmed. About 80% said the Ukraine invasion has added significant stress to their lives. And more than two-thirds worry that Russian entanglement with the West would lead to a nuclear war.

Mental health professionals say those fears can manifest in several ways: panic attacks, a racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, physical tension, or difficulty in sleeping. For a significant number of people, it can lead to heightened anxiety and/or depression.

Angeleena May, executive director of AMFM Healthcare Washington, said the mental health organization — with locations in Poulsbo and a virtual telehealth component — has seen a measurable rise in adults expressing some form of anxiety or depression from just two years ago.

Angeleena May, executive director of AMFM Healthcare Washington (AMFM Healthcare Washington photo)

Angeleena May, executive director of AMFM Healthcare Washington (AMFM Healthcare Washington photo)

May, a licensed mental health counselor, said the percentage was around 20% two years ago. Fast forward to January, and that number has increased to 40%.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase that correlates with the pandemic, and we’ve seen an unease about global economics and financial instability,” she said. “A lot of those aspects that we see in the news can be depressing.”

A significant number of Kitsap County residents already prone to depression or anxiety can find the recent news to be additionally burdensome — and sometimes debilitating.

May said whether a person is directly impacted on a personal level by an event, or experiences trauma from afar, the results often lead to significant mental health issues that may persist for months.

She used the analogy of a thermometer to describe how a person might be affected by stressful events: “When we add on pressure from work or challenges with our family or external relationships, those aspects can raise the temperature. The same is true with the global traumas that we’re experiencing.

“We know that instability leads to anxiety and our sense of control over our lives. [It can hinder] our ability to feel a sense of calm and groundedness. We experience empathy as human beings, and when our empathy is very strong, we can be greatly impacted by things we hear on the news or in our community.”

Since humans have a tendency to problem solve, May said, we can quickly feel overwhelmed by large global crises that can be very difficult to understand and navigate.

If you never have experienced anxiety or depression but have found yourself blindsided by these feelings, it’s just a symptom of the human condition. May said if you feel you might need professional help, you probably should seek out some professional guidance.

“After you’ve come to recognize these feelings are real, then asking for help is a good step to take,” the mental health counselor said. “There are things [mental health professionals] can do to help you process your feelings and come up with strategies to deal with them.”

They include:

  • Recognize the impact that global events can have on your mental health.
  • Limit your time watching the news from 5 to 10 minutes a day. Staying glued to the news can be counterproductive to your health. Stick to trusted news sites for updates. There are plenty of sites out there that hype the news into hysteria. The same is true with many of the postings on YouTube or other social media sites.
  • Limit your time scrolling on your phone at bedtime when you should be sleeping.
  • Practice gratitude. Take five minutes first thing in the morning and the last thing at night to reflect on the positive, meaningful things that you have recently experienced.
  • Spend time in nature. It naturally decreases our stress, anxiety and depression.
  • Get exercising. Meditate and engage in yoga. Move your body, then get plenty of sleep.

And it goes without saying that it always helps to express empathy, kindness and gratitude to others. They are attributes from which we all can benefit.