What’s the Real Reason Political Anxiety Is So High?

In the United States, millions of people struggle with anxiety related to politics. They may hate the current state of the country, they may fear their political rivals getting into power, or they may be obsessed with the latest developments related to a cause that's important.

But what's the real reason political anxiety is so high? And what can we do about it?

Root Causes of High Political Anxiety

Let's start by taking a closer look at the major root causes of high political anxiety.

  • Governmental power and control. Imagine for a moment that the federal government was only responsible for one thing: taking care of a single tree in the middle of rural Utah. Their budget is $100 per year, and there's only one person in charge of making sure that tree is cared for. It's a voluntary, unpaid position, so only truly passionate arborists would apply for it. In this fanciful scenario, do you think anyone in the United States would care what happens in the next election? Do you think anyone would worry or stress out about who would be in power in the federal government? The answer is no. The only reason we have anxiety, stress, and worry about what happens in government is because the government is ridiculously, uncomfortably powerful. If our political enemies (whoever they happen to be) take power, they could exert tremendous control over our lives. So on some level, a bit of anxiety is reasonable.
  • The 24-hour news cycle. It doesn't help that we're in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Media companies come in all shapes and sizes, from corporate juggernauts to independent journalists, and everyone is racing to publish news stories for the public to consume on a constant basis. There is no more reading the morning paper; we are constantly bombarded with information. Even if some of this information is positive, it's easy to become overwhelmed and feel anxious as a result.
  • Bad media incentives. It’s ironic that the very news organizations publishing stories about high rates of political anxiety are the same ones (perhaps) intentionally stoking those anxieties. Media companies aren't necessarily incentivized to tell the truth or commit to quality journalism; instead, they're incentivized to get clicks and attention. Unfortunately, this typically motivates them to focus on negative and anxiety-inducing stories -- while also exaggerating or leaving out details when convenient.
  • Population segmentation. Additionally, our population has become more divided. People are spending more time online and on social media, where they can selectively unfollow or block people who don't politically agree with them. Average people trap themselves in echo chambers, convincing themselves that anyone who disagrees with them is a moron and anyone who agrees with them is morally righteous. Accordingly, when someone who disagrees with them gets into power, it's motivation enough to start a riot.
  •  Negativity bias. Human beings are negative creatures. We are naturally predisposed to focus more on negative pieces of information than positive ones.

What Do We Do?

So what can we do about this?

  • Manage anxiety individually (as best we can). Anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, with the right management strategies, you can transform that energy into excitement and motivation. Part of our responsibility as individuals is to take better care of ourselves and proactively manage our anxious feelings. Regularly attending therapy sessions and calming your anxiety in the moment can work wonders.
  • Disconnect from digital media. Next, we should all do a better job of disconnecting from digital media. Just because there's a 24-hour news cycle doesn't mean we all need to pay attention to it all the time. Checking the news less frequently, spending less time on social media, and generally avoiding the internet can significantly reduce the anxiety you feel in day-to-day life.
  • Talk to your neighbors. Once you start spending less time on digital media, you'll have more time to interact with people in person. And if you do, you'll find that even your so-called political “enemies” are actually pretty swell people with interesting lives. Interacting with people close to you will reduce your stress and anxiety, give better perspective to the political world, and help you see more of the good in humanity.
  • Reduce the size and scope of government. In the decades that followed the Cold War, fears over nuclear war began to ebb gradually as nuclear proliferation came to a halt and began to reverse. That's because the size of the threat began to shrink. Though it’s certainly a tall order, we would do well to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.

Political anxiety is already high, and it's likely to grow higher from here. It's on us to recognize the true root causes of this phenomenon and fight back before the problem intensifies.

Image: Public Domain Pictures

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