Roe Struck Down, Formula and Tampon Shortages: Are You Feeling Overwhelmed?

A psychiatrist weighs in on why these news events are distressing for women, parents, and people who menstruate and give birth, and how to take care of yourself during this time.

Fact-Checked
female biological symbol and multiracial lifted arms

Even if you can't directly change the news that's contributing to your stress and anxiety, talking about and understanding what you're feeling can put you in a better place to cope.

Laura Stolfi/Stocksy

There’s good reason for women, parents, and people who menstruate or give birth to be feeling agitated right now.

The Supreme Court today announced their decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, ending the constitutional right to abortion. The contentious ruling was widely expected after a draft of the opinion was leaked in May. 

The landmark decision comes at a time when many parents are struggling to feed their babies because of an ongoing baby formula shortage. And earlier this month, we started seeing reports of tampon shortages. 

These issues have understandably caused feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, anger, and stress for people throughout the country, says Allison Young, MD, an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine in New York City and a psychiatry medical reviewer for Everyday Health.

If this is you, here’s what Dr. Young says about how you can prioritize your mental well-being during times of stress and uncertainty.

Everyday Health: Let’s start at the beginning. Why are these recent conversations around women’s access to care and maternal health so distressing to women and others?

Allison Young: People are so stressed by all the things going on in the world right now. The issues related to Roe v. Wade, the baby formula shortage, and the tampon shortage just add to the growing pile of stressors and uncertainty in people’s lives. And as acute stressors accumulate over time, they can definitely take a toll on mental health and lead to prolonged periods of stress, especially if those stressors aren’t being managed.

I think issues like these can often lead to feelings related to mistrust of the government, and it can be a very disturbing feeling when someone feels they can’t trust their government. The accumulating uncertainty in these times has also led to a general sense of unrest, and many people feel on edge because they find the current political and social climate unsettling.

People may also feel a learned helplessness — in other words, they may feel like there’s no way they can impact what’s going on in the world right now. For instance, with Roe v. Wade being overturned, many people feel that progress that’s been made for women’s rights and bodily autonomy will be lost.

EH: For women and others who were part of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and helped move the needle forward when it comes to these issues, how might their own personal history and experiences make listening to these current news events feel, perhaps, uniquely distressing?

AY: For many people, it feels like no matter what they do, the situation is out of their hands. The current situation with Roe v. Wade can lead to feelings of anger, unrest, and hopelessness, particularly for people who were directly impacted by this, whether they were pioneers of that feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s or because they themselves have been impacted by these issues.

EH: For a lot of women, parents, and others who menstruate and give birth, their current day-to-day might not be directly impacted by Roe getting overturned or either of these shortages. Why does the news still create such a strong underlying sense of anxiety, irritability, sadness, or other feelings?

AY: The general feeling of uncertainty takes a heavy toll — for example, the Roe v. Wade decision is leading many people to worry about not being able to receive healthcare they may need, either now or in the future. Feeling powerless to affect the outcome of this conversation can make stress and anxiety greater.

Also, these issues can lead people to feel disenfranchised, and the disenfranchisement and further marginalization of these groups of people unfortunately seem to be a common thread for many of the stressors that have accumulated in recent years. It’s this disenfranchisement that I see people emotionally affected by the most.

And the media conversations surrounding these issues often serve to make the negative feelings worse rather than better for many people.

EH: Many conversations around these women's rights issues focus on cisgender women when they affect other communities, too, like transgender and nonbinary individuals who've given birth or who menstruate. Can this lead to further anxiety and stress for people who may not feel seen or represented in these conversations?

AY: Certainly. I think anytime a conversation in the media emphasizes the binary gender roles and the assumption of a heterosexual relationship, it can serve to ostracize these communities.

EH: Given that most people do have little power to affect the supply chains leading to these shortages or the Supreme Court decision, what can people do to cope with the stress they’re feeling and feel less powerless?

AY: Talking about your emotions and understanding why these issues are bothering you can be an important part of lessening the anxiety and fear they're causing. Sometimes these things can lead us to feel on edge, but we can’t put our finger on why. Taking the time to sit and breathe and to think about what you’re really feeling can be helpful, whether you do that on your own or by talking to someone else. And in talking about it, it may help people realize why they’re feeling on edge, too.

Other times, you can point to a situation or a decision like Roe v. Wade that’s causing you to feel “off,” but you might not realize why in the moment. But when you’re able to talk about it and unpack it, I think that understanding can be freeing for people.

Maybe it allows you to say: “Oh, I’m worried because I fear that I might need an abortion in the future,” or “I was assaulted in college, and I didn’t even know it, but this was bringing up memories of that assault.”

Many times, we want to push away negative feelings rather than talk about them, but I think talking to someone or journaling helps you hold space for those feelings. Anytime we resist negative feelings, they just persist; it’s acceptance of those feelings that can help them dissipate naturally.

EH: Are there any other steps people can take to help cope with the emotions they’re feeling around these news events and feel less overwhelmed?

AY: Know that you’re not alone, and other people are going through this, too. Also:

  • Limit your time watching news or scrolling through social media, especially if you’re feeling triggered by what you’re reading or hearing. It’s important to stay informed, but I suggest trying to read news headlines and stories without reading comments on social media. These can lead people to say very hateful things online. This can be really triggering and traumatizing for people who’ve had an abortion, whether for an unwanted pregnancy or a nonviable pregnancy.
  • Take time to take care of yourself and do what you find enjoyable, whether it’s going for a run, reading, or taking time with loved ones, rather than constantly checking to see if anything else happened in the news. This is self-care, and it can help keep you both mentally and physically well, even during trying times.
  • Try to stay in the present moment. These accumulating stressors can cause someone to spiral because of the “what-ifs” that stem from them. Roe v. Wade being overturned is going to understandably bring up a lot of negative feelings for people. Try to let yourself feel those feelings without getting into the “what-ifs” that could happen in the future but haven’t happened yet.
  • Connect with friends and family who are going through the same thing. Friend groups and social connections are really important. Practically speaking, regarding the shortages, some people may have tips related to stores that have these products in stock, or they may be able to help you get the products you need.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.