Politics: Be Informed but Not Obsessed

We are once again entering into an election year.  The political climate can be polarizing. For some, this is a time of invigoration as they support their candidates and positions. For others, they are riding an emotional roller coaster that is accelerating as they feel overwhelming anxiety. It is easy for "news junkies" to become obsessed with political pundits who sensationalize polls and projections to hook you into each story.   

Psychologist Steven Stosny, Ph.D., coined the term "Election Stress Disorder" to describe the level of anxiety and obsession that many of us feel surrounded by in the tense and polarizing political climate. He noted that is hard enough to consistently use our "adult brain" (logic and reason) during non-election years, but that the chaos and emotional rhetoric in an election year makes it even harder. He shares, "Our 'toddler brain' (emotional, all-or-nothing, "Mine! No!") hijacks the 'adult brain', impairing its ability to take other perspectives, weigh evidence, see nuance, plan for the future, and create value and meaning. The 'toddler brain' is highly susceptible to emotional contagion; toddlers take on whatever negative emotions are around them, as any parent who has been tense or irritable near one can attest."

These stressors impact our daily lives, but we generally have little control over the course of these "dramas and traumas". Thus, we must find ways to manage our distress and anxiety. Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, Manager of VUMC Work/Life Connections-EAP, suggests using these core techniques when we face the unknown in uncertain times:

  1. Focus on what you have control over. Politically, we can be informed, campaign, and vote.
  2. Limit media consumption if it causes you distress: Reduce social media, news "doom-scrolling" and headline obsessions. Keep informed without being overly absorbed.
  3. Connect with those who give you support. Ask them to avoid stressful topics when you need a break.
  4. Engage in calming techniques: Meditation, strategic breathing, visualization, progressive relaxation, mindfulness, exercise, prayer, music, pleasure reading, or apps like Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, or countless others.
  5. Remain hopeful. We can overcome obstacles and challenges with planning, persistence, effort, and choosing the right strategies. We are more resilient than we think.
  6. Be a realistic optimist. Don't resort to apocalyptic or end-of-the-world thinking.
  7. Embrace gratitude. Appreciate moments of joy and kindness.

If you find yourself becoming overly anxious, clinically depressed, or struggling with how to cope, contact Work/Life Connections-EAP to set up a confidential appointment with one of our counselors by calling 615-936-1327.