The Fragile Emotional State of America

protesters with American flag

Statistically, things are looking peachy in the U.S., the unemployment rate is low, and we’re seeing robust job growth — both cause for celebration. One could assume the challenges of the recession that was stressing us out are behind us. But according to a new survey, Americans are more stressed, worried, and angry than they have been in a decade.

Gallup’s annual Global Emotions Report surveyed more than 150,000 people in 140 countries to capture the global state of emotions. The poll showed that:

  • Americans are more worried and stressed than most people around the world: 55% of Americans said they had felt stressed the day before the survey, compared to a global average of 35%
  • 45% of Americans said they felt a lot of worry, in comparison to a 39% global average
  • More than 20% of Americans said they felt a lot of anger, which matches the global average)
  • Greece, the Philippines, and Tanzania were the only countries with stress rates higher than the U.S.

While the U.S. numbers are at an all-time high, the report shows a continued trend of rising worry, stress, and anger worldwide.

Why Are Americans Feeling Pessimistic?

There isn’t a definite reasoning behind the magnitude of this year’s negative statistics, but according to Ohio-based Talkspace therapist Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S, while there have been some positive developments (unemployment rates down, for example), issues related to social justice, personal agency, and bodily autonomy continue to dominate the news. For many individuals, these issues can be anxiety-provoking, stressful, and overwhelming.

“For marginalized populations and those who are most likely to be impacted by some of the changes, the constant threat of impending doom can lead to an increase in stress, anxiety, and fear,” she said. “In addition, the 24-hour news cycle and availability of news on social media means that most people face a never-ending barrage of negative news stories that are capable of impacting their emotional well-being.”

Americans are More Stressed, But Also Happier

Gallup’s measure of the world’s positive experiences had been on the decline for a few years, but that trend reversed this year. According to the survey results, more respondents reported good experiences than they did in 2017. The results showed:

  • Worldwide, 87% of people said they were treated with respect the day before taking the survey
  • 74% had smiled or laughed a lot
  • 72% felt well-rested and 71% felt a lot of enjoyment
  • Similar to previous years, Latin American countries led the pack in positive emotions, with Paraguay and Panama tying for first

“With the increased emphasis on self-care, I think it’s possible that people are more aware when they’re feeling happy and engaged,” O’Neill said. “There’s also been an increased attention on mindfulness practices, which definitely helps folks recognize how and what they are feeling in a given moment.”

O’Neill said it’s important to stress the importance of self-care. You are less able to handle life’s stresses when you’re already depleted by physical and emotional exhaustion. While taking the time to take care of yourself is a deliberate effort, it’s important for your mental and physical health.

“To the extent possible, try to balance your time so that you’re not constantly immersing yourself in frightening and overwhelming news,” she said. “I also think it’s helpful for individuals to focus on ways they can effect change. For example, if reading about a particular social justice issue causes feelings of powerlessness, think about ways that you can help advocate (volunteering, donations, etc.) to feel empowered.”

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

Practicing self-care can be difficult — between crazy schedules, stressful jobs, and a host of responsibilities — a bubble bath sometimes doesn’t make the cut. But, there are little things you can do to prioritize your self-care to keep your emotions (both positive and negative) in check. For example, you might have the flexibility to wake up 10 minutes earlier than usual to sit with a cup of coffee and practice meditating before the chaos of the day begins. Or, you can make an effort to take a short walk every evening after dinner, focusing on your breathing and freeing your mind at the end of the day.

Once you implement what works into your regular routine, you can boost your well-being this year and for the future. And if you’re still feeling stressed, talking to a licensed therapist can be an excellent way to get the world’s burdens off your chest.

Published by

Ladan Nikravan Hayes

Contributor