2020 has been a whirlwind. Unfortunately, the election is no exception. With ballots being cast, it may feel like finally, we can stop talking politics. But even after November 3rd, political stress, anxiety, and depression will likely be lurking.
If You Feel Overwhelmed When Talking About Politics, You Might Have Political Anxiety
Generally speaking, politics is a challenging topic to talk about. When you think about politics, what comes to mind? If it’s stress, fear, anxiety, and worry, there’s a pretty good chance that you are suffering from what’s been dubbed “election stress disorder” or, more simply, political anxiety.
Anxiety is a mental illness that has symptoms such as fatigue, excessive worry, insomnia, changes in eating habits, nausea, and more. Generally, the reasons why someone may experience these symptoms vary from person to person. In the discussion of politics, anxiety might be provoked when you read the news, check social media, or hear someone discussing political opinions that differ from yours.
A Combination of Self-Care and Therapy Can Help You Control Your Political Anxiety
When you’re dealing with political anxiety, it’s best to practice calming breathing techniques, meditation, and prioritize physical exercise. You should also limit the amount of political talk you engage in and ensure you’re referencing unbiased, accurate news sources. A trusted mental health professional such as a therapist or counselor can provide you with more helpful tips, advice, and guidance to not only get you through the elections but after as well.
Emily Simonian, MA, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Thriveworks in Washington, DC—specializing in stress, anxiety, and family issues—guides her clients towards using a three-step boundary process when they’re feeling anxious about politics. “The first step is recognizing what you’re trying to accomplish in setting a boundary. Let’s say you want to feel less anxious in general and you’ve pinpointed that high intensity election related discussions are a trigger, so you create a goal of disengaging from political conversations that become emotionally intense (i.e. yelling, slanderous talk, intolerance). Once you’re clear about what your triggers are and exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, recognizing when it’s happening or about to happen becomes easier, which is step two.”
Simonian says the final step is implementation. “You can excuse yourself from conversations using a firm but polite and neutral approach: ‘The points you’re making are interesting and I respect your opinion but I’ve made a decision to not discuss politics or the election.’”
Amy Taylor, a freelance writer and editor, struggles with political anxiety and feels like her stress and negative thinking consume up to 80% of her day. To overcome this, she decided to work with a therapist. “My therapist advised me to set boundaries with the amount of time I spend thinking or obsessing about the election and potential negative outcomes.”
Taylor only allows herself to spend an hour of the day thinking about politics. “I use a timer and when that goes off, I’m done thinking about it for that day. When thoughts bubble up outside of that time, which they often do, I put them aside for the next day,” she explains. “I plan to keep these boundaries in place post-election and continue treatment with my therapist.”
How to Set Healthy Political Boundaries at Home
Whether you live with a partner, roommates, or your family, political conversation is bound to come up. Even if you live on your own, you can’t stop that one family member from calling you to tell you about the latest article they’ve read. Hanging up and dodging calls is easy. Avoiding politics in the living room is a different story.
If you and the people you live with have opposing views, it can cause unneeded friction in the one place that is supposed to provide serenity. The last thing you want is for your anxiety to skyrocket every time you hear a candidate’s name in another room. If you feel like your political anxiety is ever-present at home, try:
- Changing the topic: This is easier said than done. Sometimes people feel like they need to tell you what they heard or their latest opinion. However, it would be best if you established a healthy boundary for the sake of your mental wellbeing (and the mental wellbeing of those you live with). If your partner, family member, or roommate starts talking about politics, change the topic. You can do this by letting them finish their sentence and then introducing a new topic. Or, you can politely ask them not to discuss that at the moment.
- Talking to one person at a time: If multiple people are at your home and discussing the election, it can feel overwhelming. If you feel like you want to talk about your thoughts and feelings but don’t want to in front of everyone, attempt to have smaller side conversations that are less intimidating. You won’t feel like you’re being ganged up on or pressured to give your input and fear judgment.
- Establishing a “no politics” goal: Simonian recommends talking to your family members, roommates, or partner about your goal of keeping political talk to a minimum. “You can excuse yourself from conversations using a firm but polite and neutral approach: ‘The points you’re making are interesting and I respect your opinion but I’ve made a decision to not discuss politics or the election.’”
How and When to Say No to Political Discussions at Work
Typically, it’s proper etiquette not to discuss politics in the workplace. However, with today’s political climate, many people struggle to resist or avoid it. If you know that political discussions stress you out and evoke anxiety, do your best to say no to these discussions. You can do this by:
- Eating lunch with coworkers who you know won’t get into this topic.
- Putting headphones in and listening to music or a podcast while you work. This can be especially helpful if you work in a shared space.
- Closing the door to your office when it’s busy. This will prevent you from hearing unwanted conversations in the hallway or common areas.
- Politely telling your coworkers who might ask for your input that you don’t feel comfortable discussing politics at work. This can help maintain a level of professionalism.
If you engage in election talk at work, remember to keep biases at bay to prevent cold shoulders and uncomfortable vibes. Work can be seen as a safe haven in terms of keeping your mind off of the anxiety and fear you’re feeling. Dive into the projects you’re working on and you’ll be too preoccupied to let your negative thoughts take over.
Setting Political Limits Online
Political talk is on every website, social platform, and app imaginable. Chances are, your phone even dings when breaking news about the election hits. When it seems like there’s nowhere to turn that isn’t talking about politics, it might be time to take a break. You can delete social apps from your phone or mute friends and family members who are notorious for sharing unwanted information (they won’t know you’ve muted them so don’t be worried about upsetting them).
“Decide how much time you’re willing to spend perusing or participating in election-related news or talk. Stick to it by setting a timer on your phone and plan what you’re going to do when time’s up so you have another task or activity waiting to distract you,” says Simonian.
Another thing you can do to decrease your political anxiety online is refrain from sharing political posts that could potentially cause debates in the comments. Even if it’s just an unbiased article, someone might find a way to turn it into something bigger. If you want to avoid this, press pause on hitting that share button. If you do share something that ends up getting negative attention, you can delete the post, stop responding, or move the conversation to a direct message instead.
The bottom line here is that you can control what you see online. If social media and news outlets just add to your list of things to feel anxious about, remember to give yourself a digital detox break
When Election Season Ends and Feelings Remain—Remember to Stay Positive
Sometimes, politics are difficult to avoid, especially during election season. It’s part of the way we live and function. The good news is that you can learn to manage the feelings you experience when political talk is pushed to the forefront.
Staying informed and up to date on what’s going on can provide you with a sense of security so take a few minutes every few days to catch up on what’s going on but don’t overdo it. Also, set appropriate boundaries at work, at home, and online. Your mental health will benefit and everyone else will thank you later, too.
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