Many of my clients have been lamenting about a general depressed feeling that has been hanging over them this past week. Especially in the US, where the election is expected to be a close run fight, the prospect of four more years of the same is not easy for some to take. There has been an unprecedented divide among the people of America, where families, friends and relationships have all been hit by differing political views. The election taking place at present has truly divided a nation that has a long history of division. The impact on people’s mental health has been staggering if my clients can be taken as a snapshot of a bigger picture. People are tired and want an end to all the focus on the negative, bias and misleading media and want desperately to get back to a somewhat normal life.
Here in Europe, the threat of further terrorist attacks leading up to Christmas have made people wary. If you add the misery of a second national lockdown due to rising Covid infections, things look fairly grim. In the UK, the effects of Brexit are just starting to be felt and it seems that things won’t be better than they were before the vote to leave the EU.
The world looks a strange place in 2020. Then you add in fears about livelihoods lost, job insecurity, climate change, etc, etc and you could spend much of the time in a depressed state. Just how much of this should we allow our minds to focus on? It is difficult not to consider global issues in our thinking. Even though much of the above is truly out of our sphere of influence as individuals, the issues do impact us in our daily lives to a large extent, especially anything that restricts our movements or choice. As humans, we usually resist that which curbs our natural sense of freedom and we will do a lot to stay as free as possible. This is why we think and overthink these big issues and sometimes take affirmative action by demonstrating or striking.
When I consider this issue, it reminds me of the work done by Stephen Covey who wrote the impressive self-help book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“ in the 90“s. In habit 1, he states that we spend much of our time in the so-called Circle of Concern, issues that are out of our control (the big global issues). Consequently, we spend less time in our Circle of Influence, the things we can directly control, which amounts to our feelings, reactions and behaviour. While it theoretically possible, though highly unlikely, that we as individuals can change global concepts, we can use the feelings we have about them to instigate change in our lives. We could start a new political party, an environment activist group, start a charity to feed the poor and homeless but these are out of reach for the average person. However, taking those thoughts and feelings we have about such subjects and turning them into an action-based strategy will help us focus on what is really important in our lives and promote values and principles that we can live by daily.
Concentrating on things out of our immediate control, leads us to rumination, that dreamy state that can hold our minds for days or weeks. During this stage we are out of our conscious awareness and leave ourselves open to the effects of our subconscious, where our experiences and fears lie. This is the state people are in when they describe that frustrating feeing of being stuck. Action is too fearful so they avoid it by ruminating and convince themselves they are going through a decision-making process when in effect, they are spinning their wheels.
If we can really tap into what global issues are telling us about ourselves as individuals, we can use that information to change the way we see the world. We can use our thoughts and feeling to change behaviour and work towards a more value driven life.
Postscript: I started writing this article as a reaction to hearing stories of depression and anxiety concerning the US election. At that time, the early results pointed towards a win for the incumbent candidate, quite surprisingly. Since then, the challenger has eaten away at that early lead and is now expected to prevail. While politicians can never be truly believed to deliver on pre-election promises, we might be looking forward to a fairer system for all in the next four years. This will obviously have an impact on the rest of the free world too. I do not often make personal opinions part of my blog but anyone who doesn‘t believe in that fairer system for all citizens should watch Living Undocumented on Netflix. It‘s heartbreaking and maybe shows the dire need for a political change and the way these issues are handled.