How to Manage Politics and Your Mental Health

In an America that feels more divisive than ever, one thing is for certain: anxiety is nonpartisan. With election day on the horizon, it’s easy to feel like you’re being held hostage by nonstop news updates, tense arguments with loved ones or friends, and an overall sense of dread. A recent study by the American Psychological Association concluded that 69 percent of Americans find the future of our nation is a significant source of stress, and 62 percent say they are stressed by the current political climate. For many, trying to walk the fine line between being informed and obsessively worrying is so difficult that it’s easy to disengage entirely. As a student of political science (and a self-proclaimed expert on political anxiety), here are some of my tips to spot common anxiety warning signs and survive this election with your health as a priority. 

  1. 1. “This election is important. I should be stressed!”

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    You’re right - this election, seemingly more so than any other in our lifetime, is important. But constant anxiety can take effects on your health that could affect you long after the election cycle. Netdoctor outlines the following as common anxiety signs:

    -Changes in eating habits

    -Disturbances in sleep patterns

    -Finding yourself snappy or more easily angered

    -Regular thoughts of bad things happening

    -Not being able to sit still

    -A lack of concentration

    -Avoidance of tasks or people

    -Big and sudden changes in personality and habit

  2. 2. “But if I engage with someone, I can change their mind!”

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    This is a tricky topic, especially when family members or friends are concerned. There are issues you should always be a defendant of, but ask yourself: what is the best thing that could come out of this conversation? Keep in mind it will take more than one conversation to change someone’s mind - they evolve over time, and are molded by life experiences. Sometimes, the fight may do nothing but raise your heart rate. Learn how to change the subject, and remember, it’s not selfish to prioritize your mental wellbeing. 

  3. 3. “It’s not possible for me to just ignore politics. Now what?”

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    Trust me, as a student of political science and journalism, my life revolves around news consumption. It’s easier said than done to disconnect - so what about those of us who feel the need to keep informed? Just like you try to follow a healthy diet for your physical health, it’s important to consume a healthy media diet as well. Try to limit yourself to three media “meals” a day, once in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Like a regular diet, you want to make sure to cut out some “junk” by unfollowing accounts on social media that trigger an unhealthy response from you. And if you really get “hungry,” remember to reach for something satisfying: credible sources like PBS News, National Public Radio, the Associated Press, and more.

  4. 4. “I feel guilty for not being politically engaged right now, but I’m suffering”

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    Although it feels like the political madness will never stop, there are several ways you can healthily disengage and manage your mental health with a few mindful steps.

    1. Unplug. Know your limits. Stick to your designated news consumption times. The news will be there later - it does not require every second of your attention! 

    2. Practice Self-Care. Basic steps like sleeping 8 hours a day, eating well, and treating your body with kindness are great exercises to boost your mood and combat anxiety. 

    3. Learn to excuse yourself. If you get caught in the crossfire of a political debate, remember that it is not selfish to step away. Changing the subject, or allowing a person to let off steam without being confrontational could save you a major headache. 

    4. Be Open. Life is not set in stones. Be prepared for things to change, hearing new conversations, and creating a plan if the election does not go your way. 

    5. Seek professional help. If you find your anxieties about the world around you are stemming deeper than politics, contact a professional. It IS possible to live a healthy life with anxiety if you just reach out for help.

And remember kids, send your mail-in ballots today or show up on election day!