The more I talk with people, the more I realize the amount of stress that is underpinning our society. Although many appear on the surface as though they are doing fine, it does not take much prodding to learn about what lies beneath. It appears that higher levels of stress are normal now, but this “new normal” feels real unhealthy and outright scary. Are we reaching a breaking point?

Below are the top factors I hear repeatedly when talking with others about what is creating high levels of stress for them.

  • Security
    Very few people feel secure in their jobs anymore. Most believe that our economy is still on thin ice, hearing about possible corrections in the stock market, jobs continuing to move overseas, competition getting stronger. Underneath all of this is the fear of losing their job and what this would mean. This is most profound when they are still raising a family. Many families have compensated for the lack of security with a dual income, both spouses working. Although this helps reduce the stress if one was to lose their job, it brings on a whole set of new stresses as they figure out how to manage the exceptions (e.g. kid at home sick).
  • Job Stress
    Outside of the lack of security, the issues of job dissatisfaction, lack of career growth, and having to do more with less seem to be the largest contributors to personal stress. Many feel stuck in their jobs since jobs in their field may not be plentiful. They are afraid to take a new job since it may be worse than the job they have. The saying that supports this is…The devil you know may not be as bad as the devil you don’t know. Upon continual efforts to reduce costs to remain competitive, employees are now often bearing the workload of others, with no backup. Employees often feel penalized for taking a vacation, since they are still responsible for their work and commitments. And then there is the dissatisfaction that comes from having a bad boss. Results today are king, and if the boss is producing, than how they get there may not matter.
  • Finances
    We are quickly becoming a two class society. The disparity between the executive and the worker has increased dramatically. Costs continue to increase while income remains steady. The Middle Class Squeeze has sapped whatever luxury used to be associated with being in this class. On top of this is the huge gap that exists for those getting close to retirement. Many have had to use retirement savings to survive a job loss or major expense, while others have great difficulty being able to put much, if any, away in their retirement savings. Families question how much they can or should put away for their child’s college education, where costs continue to rise. Many parents are once again hosting their kids as they return home from college with boat loads of debt and the challenge of finding a good paying job.
  • Government
    People are just plain tired of our government. It has been plagued with immoral behavior, and the inability to focus on making any real difference. The game of politics and standoffs has left the US with no vision for the future, no source of new jobs, or hope that our children will be any better off than we were.
  • Terrorism
    The ugly threat of terrorism hitting our soil again is scary. We continue to hear every week of terrorist activities across the globe and for many there outright hatred of the West. Seeing these events over and over again on the news, keeps this ever-present threat real and feeding our fear.
  • Relationships
    Whether it is the stress breaking down our primary relationships, or these relationships creating the stress, our personal relationships are suffering. Breakups and divorces continue at high rates, and the kids are the biggest casualty. With both parents split and working, they are turning to alternative ways to meet their need for a stable family life. The unit that is considered to be foundational to a healthy and happy society is breaking down.

Depressing, isn’t it? Particularly for those experiencing one or more of the above or other factors. So what can we do to keep from falling prey to this negativity all around us? Taking care of ourselves, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually!

I am very empathic and affected by the events of the world. Having my eyes ripped open during the years of volunteering abroad in some of the more horrific areas and circumstances, helped me to understand the very real personal loss associated with these events. We are fortunate in that we can turn off our TV sets and open a beer after watching these events, while many of our fellow human beings are stuck. This view is very realistic, but can easily result in becoming too depressed. I have to remind myself that I am glad that I can appreciate the harsh reality of these situations, but that I must also detach myself so not to overwhelm myself. I will avoid watching the news or viewing the headlines that are 99% negative, and instead find a productive outlet such as exercise to refresh my mind and spirit. I return to my affirmations which help me to feel more positive and remind myself of what I understand to be the truth about life. I find little ways of helping those around me, helping me to find fulfillment with continual random acts of kindness.

I believe it is critical that we find ways to maintain our sanity and positive attitude and outlook. Losing hope can easily lead to despair. I continually remind myself that there are others who would love to have my problems. Is this just a form of escape? Probably, but at least it is not at the expense of my spirit or others. I find a way to persevere, to continue on, along with little ways to make a difference. There are so many challenges humanity faces that it can easily feel so overwhelming and hopeless. I look at my children who remind me of the importance of carrying on and making a difference when and where I can, beginning with them.

Mostly, it is learning how to deal with what appears to be hopeless situations. The power of personal growth is that we find new courage and conviction within ourselves. We learn how to dig deep and wake up the next morning to once again chop the wood and carry the water. We learn to live life!