5 Tips to Help You Manage Your Political Stress

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By UB therapist Michael Maloney, LCPC

In our current political climate, many are feeling overwhelmed by the news.  Many people feel like the world is going into chaos and there is a loss of civility.  We saw amazing turn out records for people voting in this past midterm election but many are still asking what can I do now?

So much of the stress that we see can feel overwhelming because it feels like we don’t have any control.  We turn on the news and see things that infuriates us, makes us feel scared and unsafe, and/or has us feel sad about the state we are in.  But once we can see this we are left only with our reactions and a feeling that we are powerless to do anything about it.

Many people went out and vote to be able to put out their voices and give some power to their dissatisfaction of the way things might be.  Now that we are past this election what is there to be done? What can we do now to take care of ourselves?

Avoid ruminations and burning out

First recognize how much stress you can take on.  Anxiety can be a great call to action, but it can also shut us down if we get overwhelmed and/or feel unsafe.  If thinking about politics leaves you feeling too exhausted and burnt out you might need to take a break so you can recuperate.  Find distractions that help keep your mind from ruminating (or constantly having the same thoughts in your head over and over) on the things that make it feel unsafe.  You might need to take a break from the news or only limited amount of new information. Make sure to find time to play and have fun. Read books or watch shows that bring enjoyment and break some of the thoughts of rumination.  

Some might feel the pressure to stay engaged and not be silent when they see all the things that make them feel unsafe.  This is alright, but you need to make sure that you don’t burn yourself out. If you put off of your energy even past the breaking point, you will have what therapists call compassion fatigue.  You might feel compassion fatigue if you start losing your passion, empathy, or ability to give concerns to issues that are important to you. We can only take on so much stress and if it becomes chronic then we create an emotional distance from it.  This is why it is important to take breaks so you can keep your passion and not burn out. Once you are able to handle the stress you can do more.

Set priorities

Once you learn the balance of taking care of yourself, you can then have more focus on what matters you do want to take on.  Journaling and talking to friends can be helpful in processing what are the thing you do care about. There have been many issues brought up in recent times and every one of them feels like a priority to face.  But you might need to figure out what is the priority for you. Writing and reflecting can help you figure out which causes you wish to put more of your energy into. If you spread all your energy on all the causes you might feel like you have less of an impact and thus that feeling of no control starts to seep inside your thoughts.  

Find small tasks to do

Once you know causes or missions you wish to tackle, take small steps to get your voice heard.  You can call your representatives. You can write out your opinions in blogs or op-eds. You can write letters to your representatives to make sure that your issues are a known priority.  You can also go to lectures and community events about issues to find others who want to talk about these things. Small steps you can do can help put into focus what you can take control of.  If we only focus on the items we can not control, we will feel powerless and depressed.

Don’t go it alone

Building community during this time is also very important.  Talking to others can help you feel more alone and isolated in these issues.  Many of us were brought up to believe that you don’t bring up spirituality or politics into polite conversations.  But this social faux pas might help us break down those barriers of isolation. It is important that you find a safe environment to talk about issues like this.  Not every person or every community is going to make it safe to be vulnerable to talk about the issues that are important to you. Find ways or communities that do bring that safety so you can talk about these things.  

If it is feeling overwhelming you can also make sure to make time to talk to a therapist.  Therapy can offer that safe space to talk about these things. If can offer that time of reflection and building a plan but it can also be a space to make sure you are not taking on too much.  

The Skill of Listening

If there are spaces that you start noticing conflict or differences in opinions then it can be important to be able to listen.  Listening is one of the harder skills to master. Often when we get in political conversations we want to be able to talk and if we are trying to listen to someone we are actually trying to figure out a rebuttal or the weak point in the argument.  However listening can help you better understand the other person and feel less connected. Try reflecting back what they said (i.e., “Let me make sure I get this right, you’re saying…). Once the other person feels heard you can give your view. People are often more likely to listen if they feel heard.  

Again this is a hard skill to master, but one that can be helpful in building difficult conversations with people we don’t agree with.  

Often we can be reactive in things that don’t make us feel safe and there has been plenty in the news that can make us feel unsafe.  We may need time to reflect, build skills of listening and self-care and make sure we are taking care of ourselves. Therapists will often remind people that airplane safety videos tell us that the air mask needs to go on you first before you help others with their air masks.  We need to make sure we take care of ourselves before we can take care of our others and our causes.