A 2022 report from the American Psychological Association suggests that we are a stressed-out nation. In “Stress in America 2022,” the authors outline primary sources of anxiety.
Americans have a dim view of the government, for example, with 70% saying they don’t think the government cares about them, 64% claiming their rights are under attack, and 45% asserting that they don’t feel protected by our laws.
LGBTQIA+ people lead the poll with 72% feeling their rights are under attack, followed by adults with a disability (68%) and women (67%). Surprisingly, white adults feel more under attack than Black adults by a slim margin (67-66%). Should we sense some entitlement there?
Significant portions of the population believe the future looks bleak: 75% of Black adults, 70% of Latino/a adults, 69% of Asian adults, and 56% of white adults feel stressed when considering the world our children might inherit.
Inflation worries 83% of adults, with 57% mainly concerned with current bills, and 43% worried about saving for the future.
Stress has consequences: 27% of adults claim that most days they are so stressed they can’t function.
In the 18 to 34-year-old age group, 62% of women and 51% of men say that on most days they feel completely overwhelmed by stress. Men and women fare equally poorly in the 35-to-44 age bracket, at 48%.
It’s no wonder that drug use, alcoholism, overdoses, and suicide rates are alarmingly high.
The article offers several tips for lowering one’s stress. The first is to find ways to disrupt negative thinking. Dwelling on past grievances or future disasters is unhelpful.
Focusing on a better future and working toward it can reverse the downward spiral and get us looking up. In church, we call that “hope.”
A second tip is to “do something unexpected” as a way of becoming more comfortable with the unknown.
A third suggestion is to “take control where you can.” Stress is often compounded by a sense of being out of control, but we often have more power than we realize. We can’t control everything, but we take responsibility for what we can.
Stress sometimes results from comparing our situation to others who may seem more successful. It’s better to avoid judging ourselves against others, the report notes, and to refrain from expecting others to solve our problems. Rescuing can easily become enabling.
Articles like this naturally lead to self-reflection. Like most people over 65, I worry much less than younger folk. I don’t totally distrust the government or feel that my rights are under attack. Inflation is a bother, but it happens all the time. I recognize how fortunate I am that I don’t have to worry about making rent payments or buying groceries.
There are reasons to be concerned about the future, beginning with enough political polarization to threaten the government’s stability, and continuing with our negative impact on the environment. An embedded system that allows the ultra-rich to avoid taxes and accumulate most of the country’s wealth leads one to wonder if a peasant revolution of sorts may lie ahead. Violence often grows from desperation.
But acknowledging difficulties does not require a descent into negative thinking. We can do our part to make things better and focus on personal responsibility rather than on what others are doing.
I recognize that I face fewer stressors than those who struggle with heavy debt or daily prejudice. My temptation to stress comes largely from inherited guilt, a nagging sense of contrition for what past generations have done.
I often feel the need to apologize just for being a white male of a certain age. Older white guys are generally blamed for much of what is wrong with the nation, and many of the charges have merit.
The surge in Christian nationalism that threatens our future stability, for example, is led mainly by white men who long for a racist past in which they reigned supreme.
But I’m not one of them. I can’t change my age, my gender, or my ethnicity. We are who we are. We who were born to privileges that others don’t share should acknowledge that advantage, but actions speak louder than apologies.
We can choose to disrupt the downward cycle by showing minority folk the respect that our forefathers didn’t. We can’t change the past, but we can speak up and act up for the present.
When needs become apparent, we should neither ignore them nor fret over them: to the extent we can, it’s better to do something about them.
For example, I use a credit card, but pay it off at the end of the month, avoiding interest. When I learned that about 60% of credit card company profits come from interest, fees, and penalties paid by those who can’t afford that luxury (helping to finance the airline miles I earn), I looked more often for ways I could reinvest my “reward” by helping people who struggle to make ends meet.
When we see the news about devastating disasters such as the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, getting down about it won’t help, but contributing to a trusted relief organization will.
When we recognize the evils of unwarranted violence against Black people in our own country, Russia’s illegitimate invasion of Ukraine, or Israel’s self-indulgent campaign against the beleaguered Palestinians, we could fume over the wrongs, but it’s better to speak up and work for justice wherever we are.
Whatever our concerns might be, it’s important to live into the future with hope. We can’t do everything, but we can hope in God, and we can do what we can – and that has to be enough.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.