Political Stress and Anxiety and How to Cope
Social media and the internet has made it possible for political news, messages and online activism to reach us anywhere, anytime. Americans are stressed, anxious and downright scared about the direction the country is headed, and it’s natural to feel an unwavering sense of unease as things continue to progress beyond your control.
Some therapists have begun calling the uptick of politically-induced symptoms “election stress disorder.” While this is not a clinical diagnosis, it gives a name to the extremely common and increasing number of symptoms people are turning to therapy for help with. If you feel tense or anxious before checking the news, compelled to always see what is happening in the headlines and experience stress or depression thinking about the political climate in America, you may be suffering from this condition.
How Politics Cause Anxiety
Anxiety stems from fear of a threat, either real or perceived, which activates the autonomic nervous system. This is the system responsible for the fight-or-flight response. More than a psychological fear or constant worry, anxiety changes how your bodily systems function. It puts your brain on “high alert,” constantly tense and waiting for something bad to happen. In psychology, this is known as hyper-vigilance. It can impact our ability to function on a basic level.
When you constantly worry about politics, you may likely bring up worst-case scenarios or dwell on fears about what will happen if the opposing candidate wins. You may even feel like you’re stuck choosing between the lesser evil, essentially hoping for a miracle but fearful that there is no “right choice.”
No one can decide who you should vote for or what you should believe in but you. However, there is a social tie to politics these days that influences everything from our relationships to our feeling of control and autonomy. Even dating apps have even incorporated a feature that allows members to display whether or not they’ve voted on their profiles, causing us to immediately judge people for their outward actions and affiliations rather than getting to know them and their views independently.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being passionate about government, over-emphasizing politics can not only damage your mental health but also become a barrier in your relationships.
Ways to Cope With Political Stress
The most important thing to do is distance yourself from the source of your problem without becoming avoidant. Rather than prohibiting any type of political news, moderate how much you read, and be picky about what forms of media you engage with. Watching analysis and opinionated videos may only heighten your stress, and you’re likely to feel worse rather than better after reading comments and engaging in heated online debates.
Make note of how often you think about, engage with and talk of politics. Obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behaviors, actions we feel like we have to do to eliminate feelings of distress. This thought cycle also causes you to feel less in control, which only heightens your need to look for external sources of validation.
Take a moment to write down your priorities in life, and see how they align with or conflict with your current relationship with politics. You might find that your differing opinions with relatives and friends are causing you to be more judgmental and intolerant, pushing you away from people who you love and care for because you think differently about certain subjects.
It’s okay to hold your own stance on things, and not everything has to be a debate. Therapy can also help you learn to balance your own views while coping with others’ opinions. A counselor can also help you work through your own underlying thoughts, unease and fears about the future in a constructive way that empowers you in the present moment. Contact us for more information.