Political Stress: When is Enough, Enough?

While many thought it would dissipate a bit after the 2016 election, the stress, anxiety, and friction that emerged out of that particularly tumultuous stretch of campaigning still seem to be plaguing most Americans. Understanding how to deal with it could be vital to your health and well-being.

The Very Real Problem of Political Stress

If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ve experienced plenty of victories over the past couple of years. It’s easy to laugh off political stress -- especially when you feel like your “side” is on top. But don’t confuse political stress with winning and losing elections. It has very little to do with this.

Political stress is a problem, regardless of which end of the political spectrum you land. It has way more to do with the state of the media, the attitudes of people, and the ways in which we’re constantly bombarded with negative news story after negative news story -- and it’s pervasive.

According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), two-thirds of Americans say they’re stressed about the future of the nation -- including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans. Roughly 57 percent of respondents say the current political climate accounts for a significant source of their stress, while 49 percent say it’s directly linked to the previous election.

"The stress we're seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it's hard for Americans to get away from it," says Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA's executive director for professional practice. "We're surrounded by conversations, news and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most."

This internal turmoil has become such a big problem for Americans that the phrase "Post-Election Stress Disorder" is commonly being used by psychologists and therapists to explain the feelings of depression, stress, dysphoria, and discombobulation that many feel.

Whatever you want to call it, political stress has had a very real impact on people in different areas of life -- including professionally, socially, relationally, and physically. If it isn’t dealt with soon, the impact could be catastrophic (and the reverberations will be felt for years).

How to Reduce Political Stress

It’s really easy to get caught up in a cycle where you neglect the reality of political stress. You assume that it’s impossible to escape and simply continue living life like everything is normal. But in reality, there’s nothing normal or healthy about political stress and you do have control over how much of this anxiety and friction you feel.

Here are some extremely practical, yet effective things you can do in your own life to eliminate excessive political stress and anxiety.

1. Take a News Fast

Most people aren’t aware of what the news actually does to them on an emotional and physical basis -- but it isn’t pretty. As Dr. Andrew Weil points out, “A number of studies have shown that images and reports of violence, death and disaster can promote undesirable changes in mood and aggravate anxiety, sadness and depression, which in turn can have deleterious effects on physical health. Even frequent worrying can reduce immunity, making you more vulnerable to infection.”

One way to avoid these ill-effects is to take a news fast -- which is simply a period of time where you opt out of watching, reading, or listening to the news. This doesn’t mean becoming totally uninformed about what’s happening in the world around you. Instead, it’s about giving yourself a temporary respite from the anxiety-inducing stories that have no real impact on your life.

2. Simplify Your Life

While you may be able to take a news fast for a few days or weeks, it isn’t practical over a period of months and years. You’ll become exposed to the news whether you like it or not, so it’s important to find other ways to eliminate stress.

If you’re like most people, your life has too much going on. By simplifying, you can remove unnecessary stress and refocus your mind on the things that matter. Here are some ideas:

  • Did you know that the average house has more than 300,000 items inside? Whether you realize it or not, this junk - and most of it is just that -- consumes a lot of your energy. Try decorating like a minimalist and you’ll experience tremendous relief.
  • Try purging your schedule of all commitments that aren’t integral to your life. Simplifying your calendar will provide you with more free time to do the things you enjoy.
  • Don’t feel like you always have to do something when you’re at home. You might think you’re relaxing when you’re watching TV or reading a book, but this might not be the case. There’s something to be said for sitting in silence and reflecting on your thoughts.

3. Choose Not to Discuss Politics

With all of the interests, challenges, and issues that we all deal with as individuals, why is it that we spend so much time discussing political issues that really have no short-term or direct impact on the quality of our lives?

Get with your friends and make it a point to stop discussing politics. Instead, focus on each other. Spend your time grounded in reality and you’ll find that you feel much more engaged in what’s happening around you.

Reclaiming America’s Sanity

There’s always going to be some level of stress and friction in a healthy government where there are multiple political perspectives in play. However, the place where our society is right now is anything but healthy. In fact, it could be argued that our collective emotional response to what happens in Washington is spiraling out of control.

Whether you feel positively or negatively about the way individual political policies are playing out, you have to be cognizant of the emotional impact of constant exposure to the news and do your best to root yourself in reality. A failure to do so could have a long-term impact on your health and well-being.