I don’t know if you’ve been following the news lately, but I have and it’s kind of grim. Here are a few recent local headlines:

“Mills activates National Guard as hospitals struggle with surge”

• “City’s youth shelter runs out of beds as needs for emergency housing rise

• “Pandemic fuels rising reports of anxiety, depression among students in Maine

Elsewhere, inflation is increasing at the highest rate in 40 years, a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant is circling the globe while democracy is on the decline. Have a nice day.

If, like me, you are feeling a little gloomy, know that you are not alone.

After decades of political division, collapse of community spirit and a 500- channel cable culture delivered by a social media algorithm that guarantees that everyone hears a slightly different version of the truth, we may have found something that brings us all together: malaise.

According to the dictionary, that’s “a general feeling of discomfort, illness or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.”

But in this case, we know what the cause is: It’s COVID.

We are coming up on the second anniversary of the start of the pandemic, and it’s wearing us down. COVID is a crisis, but crises are supposed to be temporary.

What happens when a crisis doesn’t end? What does that do to our idea of what’s normal? The stress of not knowing works its way into many aspects of our lives.

The rise of anxiety and depression among school children shows how stress is contagious. As Kelly Weaver, chair of the Maine School Counselors Association, told reporter Randy Billings, the stress on a child of having to quickly pivot between school and quarantine fuels the stress inside a family, which feeds back as more pressure on children.

“Sometimes our young students don’t have the language they need to explain what the problem is,” Weaver said. “It can be hard to put big words to those big feelings, especially when you are little.”

It’s not that easy when you are big, either. One thing that seems to be happening is that our responses to COVID are locked in, regardless of new information.

You see it in the behavior of people who refuse to wear masks and get vaccinated even when they see people around them getting sick and dying. You also see it in overcautiousness about avoiding even small indoor gatherings of vaccinated people, something that has been considered safe for a while.

This is not a both-sides issue: Our hospitals are filled to capacity because people won’t follow simple public health guidance, while no one is getting sick from excessive mask wearing.

But it shows that for many of us, recalculating the risks we face every day is exhausting. It’s easier to ignore the pandemic or to take refuge behind closed doors, and both take their toll.

One consequence is a sense of pessimism.

This struck me when I was hearing reports from last month’s National Conservatism Conference in Florida. While trying to turn Donald Trump’s ideas into a coherent political philosophy, mainstream Republicans at the event sounded ready for civil war.

“We are confronted now by a systematic effort to dismantle our society, our traditions, our economy and our way of life,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told the conference.

“The left hates America,” warned Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “It is the left that is trying to use culture as a tool to destroy America.”

A number of speakers referred to people on the political left as “utopian.”

“Utopian”? As in heading toward a perfect society?

I’m pretty liberal when it comes to politics, I know some actual leftists – not what passes for socialists on Fox News – and I don’t hear much hope for the future among them. They seem to be much more afraid of us sinking into an authoritarian nightmare when people like Rubio and Cruz take over.

Most Americans are on neither the far left nor the far right, but there has got to be a long-term effect of all this pessimism.

You make different choices when you think things will be better tomorrow than when you think you have only six months to live. No one knows what the future will bring, but we do know that in the future, everyone will have to live with the consequences of the choices we make today.

It’s hard to believe it, but someday, COVID will be behind us. But the malaise will be hard to shake.

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