Why are we so stressed? ll By: Rich Brodt

Why are we so stressed?
By: Rich Brodt

Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions report was recently released; it revealed that Americans are among the most highly stressed people in the world. America has the largest Gross Domestic Product in the world, an economy that has enjoyed the highest growth in the world in the past year, and people who live here enjoy more freedoms than people in many other places in the world. Yet, people are still stressed, anxious and worried for many of their waking hours. While we should not be surprised that a high GDP does not lead to decreased stress, the lack of other information available leads me to search for reasons why Americans are so stressed out.

For me, at least one of the answers seems to be embedded in American culture. As a whole, it seems that Americans value success, ambition, innovation and the collection of material possessions. These ideals put pressure on individuals to work towards these values even when they are not particularly important to the individual. Many seek success, financial gain, acquirement of possession not because they strongly identify with these values, but because they feel societal pressure to meet these standards. Social media and the news media just compound this stress.

Social media’s impact is becoming more and more apparent. It creates a space outside of reality where individuals can curate a particular image for themselves, filter and edit photos as they choose and then release those curated images for mass consumption. This allows an individual to project an image of themselves that is not accurate. These images are consumed by other individuals who then become envious of this person’s lifestyle despite its lack of basis in reality. We see an image of a lifestyle that is probably unattainable for most people, we see an individual who is claiming to live that lifestyle, and we assume that we can also find a way to do so. But the reality is that most people are pretending. This pretending leads to positive validation in the form of likes and comments. In essence, people are creating a dishonest version of their life for the purpose of having that dishonest version publicly praised. It is easy to see how this can lead to a disconnection from our true, genuine selves with individual values. How can that lead to anything resembling joy or happiness?

The images used to market products to us are not dissimilar to the images we are finding more and more on social media. In fact, many regular people who post on social media are now being approached to market products, which creates even more pressure for them to maintain an image. We also feel the need to purchase these products in order to attain a similar lifestyle to the person we observe on social media. This leads people to overspend, get into massive amounts of debt, and feel no better off for what they have spent their money on. Thus the cycle continues as that debt often causes long-term financial issues. Those that consume social media are constantly being marketed to both by the people they follow and by independent advertisers that now have unfettered access to their personal browsing and shopping habits. This compounds the problem, leading to more impulsive purchases and increased debt.

While the above addresses the burdens of financial debt and pressure to maintain a certain image, the current political climate must also play a large part in American stress levels. Since the election in 2016, the country has never felt more divided. Both sides are absolutely sure that they know what is right 100% of the time. This has lead to a severe lack of connection and lack of dialogue between people with differing viewpoints. If we avoid people who have different political beliefs than us, we are cutting out nearly 50% of the population, and basically judging their entire character based on what candidate they support. We are closing ourselves off when we are not able to see past a single viewpoint. We are creating a climate of adversarial interactions where people always feel like they are on the defensive. This is no way to create a dialogue. As a result we are losing our sense of connection to others, which is essential for feelings of well-being.

Many of these issues come from our individual attachments, to our beliefs, to our political views, and mostly to being right. We seek information that confirms our beliefs, and we block out the information that does not. We actually have less of a role in this than we might think. Internet search algorithms are designed to lead us to a space where our firmly held beliefs will be confirmed, and those opposing ideas are filtered out. This leads to a lack of empathy for anyone but the group that we identify with. This is a dangerous direction for a nation to be headed. We need to close our computers, put down our phones, and try to see and accept one another.

About Rich Brodt
I provide therapy and counseling for individuals. My style integrates various techniques, but I tailor my approach to each client’s unique needs. I am committed to helping people that experience anxiety resulting from trauma, work-related stress, legal issues or major life transitions. Together, we will work to calm your mind and create lasting change.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth