Political Anxiety: Is It Ruining America?

It's difficult to believe that Donald Trump has been president for nearly a year and half already.  The left is still so caught up in the 2016 election cycle that it's hard for many to look forward.  In fact, many have developed what psychologists are dubbing post-election stress disorder.

What Is Political Anxiety?

According to a report from the American Psychological Association, two thirds of people are stressed about the future of the country, including 60 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats.  Many of these individuals claim they worry about political issues on a daily basis, often finding it difficult to get good sleep.

"When people feel anxiety, they experience some combination of physical and psychological effects such as an inability to concentrate, fearful anticipation, elevated awareness or alertness, nausea, loss of appetite, and sweating.  Some may even experience panic attacks," explains Logan Block of Sleepopolis.  "Most people are able to manage anxiety when it does occur, and the feelings typically pass quickly.  But for some people, anxiety can lead to one or more anxiety disorders."

The problem with anxiety disorders is that they often morph and compound into even larger issues.  Before long, the original cause of the anxiety disorder isn't even relevant anymore.  Anxiety becomes such a way of life that anything and everything can become worrisome and fear-inducing.

While the anxiety is real, some people take exception to the nomenclature associated with political anxiety and "post-election stress disorder."  In an interview shortly after President Trump's inauguration, U.S. rep. Brian Mast, an Army veteran, called the correlation between actual PTSD and "PESD" disrespectful.

"There's a big difference between being pissed off about things and what happens on the battlefield," Mast said.  "I have empathy for the stressors that are in people's lives as a result of this election, but that doesn't mean that there's any real comparison to service members that have been targeted by snipers, that have been blown up, that have had to take the lives of their enemies ... there's not a comparison between the two, in my opinion."

Mast certainly has a point, but the truth is that political anxiety – as ridiculous as it may be – is a real thing.  Learning how to cope with it is the next big challenge we face.

How Can Americans Cope with Political Anxiety?

Most people do a poor job of managing their political anxiety (and anxiety in general).  As cognitive behavioral therapist Jennifer Shannon says, "[w]e may try to vent our emotions by demonizing and name calling.  We may check our preferred news feeds obsessively, looking for evidence that we are right.  We may avoid listening to views not our own, or even avoid interacting with others who have different political beliefs all together.  And of course, we worry.  We lay [sic] awake at night with the what if's scrolling across our brains."

None of this works, though.  It might provide temporary relief, but it's just masking the problem or exacerbating the underlying issue.  In order to really cope with political anxiety at a healthy and constructive level, Americans need to do the following:

  1. Embrace Reality

It's really important that Americans understand the difference between actual and perceived impact of political policies and movements.  While there are certainly situations in which a bill or mandate has a direct impact on your life, the reality is that almost nothing changes from day to day.

Think about your life now and your life two years ago.  While there are two totally different administrations in power, your life – at least on a political landscape – remains relatively unchanged.  For all of the talk about health care, taxes, North Korea, LGBT rights, gun control, and other issues, it's unlikely that any of these issues has actually changed your life in a practical way.  You may perceive that they have, but the honest truth is that very few people have actually been impacted by the political talk on these topics.

This isn't to say political decisions don't have any effect on American life.  When you look at four-, eight-, and ten-year chunks of time, you can definitely see progression.  But to let a decision today impact your stress level tomorrow is shortsighted.

  1. Limit News Intake

The second piece of advice is to limit news intake.  When you understand that so much of the news is speculation and sensationalism, you'll realize that you don't have much to gain from tuning in.

It's smart to stay in the loop on what's happening, but be selective.  Check in once every few days to see what's going on, but don't constantly check your phone or religiously watch the 24-hour cable news cycle.  You aren't missing anything.

  1. See the Good in Other People

Finally, make it a point to see the good in other people.  The vast majority of American voters want what's best for the country.  Their idea of what's best might differ from yours, but don't let this breed contempt.  See the good, learn to compromise, and always keep things in perspective.

The Media's Responsibility

There are numerous factors involved in the rise of political anxiety in America, but the media shoulder a large portion of the blame.

While their elitist personalities will never allow them to admit as much, the members of the media have blood on their hands.  They like to claim they're just reporting the facts and delivering the news, but the reality is that networks like CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and the New York Times are in the business of pursuing highly politicized agendas.

It used to be that the media reported the news.  In 2018, it seems as though they're trying to create the news.  They know that divisiveness sells and are set on propagating sensational stories that create anxiety in the general public and make them more likely to keep the TV on, share clickbait news articles, buy more papers, etc.

The media have been creating news (rather than reporting it) for many years now, and the rise of Donald Trump from businessman to president seems to have made the situation worse.  Leftist reporters, TV personalities, talk show hosts, and journalists are in such denial of what's happening on the political landscape that they're grasping for straws – making up news, exaggerating stories, and giving a platform to glorified gossip.

The good news is that the democratization of news, fueled by the rise of social platforms, blogging, and podcasting, is finally eroding some of the power that traditional news outlets have enjoyed over the past couple of centuries.  Ultimately, the hope is that this will lead to more objective, fact-based news reporting that isn't controlled by ratings.

As the power shifts from liberal media companies and their minions to the masses (which consist of sane, logical liberals, conservatives, and moderates) the hope is that political anxiety will no longer rule the day.

What actually happens remains to be seen.