So then I do one of the things sleep experts say I absolutely should not do. I roll over, pick up my phone and check the latest headlines. I absolutely have to know: what has the president tweeted now? Or what investigative story, related to any of the scandals swirling around his administration, has produced the evidence that will finally convince his supporters that some of his actions could put our democracy at risk?
Invariably, I will see headlines that outrage me or dismay me, but I'll also look for those that reassure me that there are people who share my reality. My need to know satisfied, I can sometimes go back to sleep. But just as often, a headline leaves me feeling so amped up, I know sleep's a hopeless cause. Nights like that I can actually feel something like a chemical or electrical charge coursing through my veins.
So I get out of bed and try to knock something off my to-do list. I find that lessening my anxiety over a small deadline for work, for example, helps ease my greater existential anxiety about the country's future.
If this sounds at all familiar, perhaps you, too, have "headline stress disorder" -- a term coined by
"Yet as bad as it seemed in those days," he wrote, "there was an end in sight:
But then the unexpected happened. We got a new president whose career in business and as a reality TV star suggests he revels in crisis, operating on the belief that he gets the best results when he keeps everyone around him in a constant state of uncertainty and near-panic.
Whatever his intention, it appears many of us are now living in a constant state of uncertainty with, as Stosny says, the nonstop news alerts, social media posts and spinning of "alternative facts" coming at people like a "barrage of missiles in a siege without end."
Stosny isn't the only mental health expert who says we're enduring an unprecedented level of politics-related stress which is, of course, exacerbated by our immediate access to attention-demanding headlines and social media posts courtesy of our smart phones.
In fact, for at least a decade before the 2016 election, Americans were pretty consistent in what they worried about: money, work and the economy, according to a report issued last month by the
While this survey doesn't specifically address certain demographic groups, it seems safe to assume that women as well as people of color, immigrants and Muslims feel an ongoing threat to their rights and well-being, given the sexist and racist things Trump said while campaigning and actions he's taken in office, said
(While it wasn't mentioned in the
Even if Elium's clients say their their day-to-day lives have yet to be affected, the news headlines have convinced many they need to be hyper-vigilant. "It's put all our brains in a 'fight, flight or freeze" mode that can be exhausting and depressing," he said.
"I know people who have begun therapy -- some for first time in their lives -- or have begun taking anti-depressants," my friend, Diane, told me. Since the election, this self-described news junkie said she's been living with low-grade depression, and has stopped watching her favorite news shows, including the even-keeled
Another friend, in an attempt at levity, mentioned
I can definitely relate to headline-induced stress-eating. Chocolate has become a regular necessity and so, too, has loading up on carb-heavy comfort foods like pasta carbonara.
Of course, I can't continue living at this amped-up level, even if my insomnia has made me pretty productive in other areas of my life. But in addition to the stress-eating, I'm too tired to exercise with any regularity which compounds the situation -- and I really can't afford to go up a size in clothes.
So what to do? While some friends have channeled their anxiety into political activism, others are instinctively taking news breaks, as Elium and other therapists recommend.
That includes my friend Greg, who voted for Trump and believes he's a smart man who will do good things for the country. Still, he's disappointed by all divisiveness in the news. "I've actually stopped watching all news -- even the local news, because it's all about the national scene," he said. "Frankly, my life is happier."
As a journalist, I can't take a news break, even if I mostly cover celebrities and pop culture; after all, we have a reality TV star as president, and
But I have found moments of respite. Just this weekend, I dove into a classic novel, got a pedicure and took naps. I also went to the gym and did some weeding in my yard -- though I confess I did it while listening to podcasts about
We'll see what the coming weeks bring.
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