Dear Dr. Andrea,
I am 34 years old, married and the mom of a toddler. Like pretty much everyone I know, I feel pretty stuck in a cycle of negativity about the world lately. I have a lot of anger and fear about what is happening in our country, and it can feel all-consuming at times. I have a good group of friends, and we talk when we can, which is not nearly as much as we’d like, given what we have going on with kids and jobs. I love these friends dearly, and they are an important part of my life.
The problem is, almost every single time we talk for the past few months, we just start talking about how stressful things are. We vent about the administration and worry about the upcoming election. The next thing I know, that’s all we get to do and I end up more drained than before.
I miss being with these women in a real, true way. It is hard enough that we don’t really get to hang out anymore, but when we do talk online or by phone, I feel like we are squandering all our time raging about someone I hate. And I end up feeling even lonelier. But I also don’t want to not talk about that, because it is on my mind all the time.
I’m so frustrated with the situation, but I also don’t know how avoid talking about this stuff and it would feel so strange to pretend like it’s not happening.
— Stuck in the vortex
I’ve been seeing this a lot. It’s like the social media doomscrolling so many of us can’t stop engaging in. It ups our anxiety and makes us feel worse, but the idea of not doing it — leaving that itch unscratched, wondering if the unknowns of this dystopian situation would be even more horrifying than whatever we’ll actually find — can be even harder to bear. So we scratch and scratch until it hurts.
But since this is such a common challenge, it’s likely that your friends are experiencing it too. And what’s great about close friendship is that you can communicate honestly and vulnerably and make room for each other’s feelings and preferences, prioritizing supporting each other in the ways that you need. Right now, you need a break from the doom, period. And you need a dose of connection with them that’s not tied to headlines or current events.
So, think of this as a potential group project: repurposing some of your all-too-precious time together into something more nurturing. Before you talk next, float the idea of needing a break from the news, even just for part of the time. Aim for flexibility (no gag orders) and focus on what you do want, not what you don’t, making sure this feels agreeable to everyone. Maybe you all decide you’ll spend 15 minutes on the latest “Can you believe it?” political developments, but then 45 minutes on your hopes for the future/making each other laugh/sharing your best self-care tips/the nuances of your latest Netflix obsession. Or maybe you’ll choose to each just start with something personally newsworthy other than the headlines. Or perhaps share a new theme for the entire conversation: bright spots you’re grateful for, family or professional developments, or drama unrelated to the White House.
If the group makes these plans but then slips back into politi-venting, then it may just be that the pressures of these times are felt too deeply for your friends to withstand them. Realistically, they may be stressed enough about everything that it’s just too difficult for them to change course, and so there’s a mismatch in needs right now. If that’s the case, see if you can get more one-on-one time with individuals in the group who could use the break like you can, and be stricter about ground rules.
And finally, this all underscores how important it is for you to commit to taking care of yourself during this time, too. Social support is one of the most crucial pillars of emotional well-being, but we’re in a rather tough time for it, not just because it’s hard to gather like we used to, but because the vast majority of people are likely more stressed than usual.
This can make the usual reciprocity of caregiving among friends pretty out of whack. So, try to help them give you what you need, but if they can’t, remember that sleep, movement, outdoor time, creative pursuits and mindful pauses can all help you feel better as well.