What To Do When Politics Are Making You Anxious

American politics are dividing us more sharply, and causing us more stress and anxiety, than they have in a very long time. Depending on your political persuasion, you either a) just survived 8 years of hell and are happy to have the ship righted again, or b) just experienced 2 presidential terms of bliss and are still in disbelief regarding the latest election. And while these dynamics continue to wreak havoc on our mental health, it’s also pretty clear that things won’t be changing anytime soon. As we all struggle to find the best path forward for our country, we can’t afford to let our anxieties worsen to the point where we lose sight of our relationships, stop caring for ourselves, let our work slip, and stop enjoying our time on earth. So, whether you’re one of those people feeling really anxious about the current administration, or someone still recovering from the last, here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety…

It might be time to get more involved. One of the reasons you might be feeling anxious is that you’re seeing things you don’t like but also feeling powerless. Consider getting more involved in the democratic process. Join a group that is working to effect change. Connect with like-minded people. Donate money. Write or call your representative or senator. And who’s to say you can’t run for office? Taking action might be just the thing your mind and body need to start to relax.

Pick something that can be your “cause.” You’re only one person in a big world. Don’t feel like you need to figure out how to solve climate change, immigration, the national debt, gun violence, healthcare reform, racism, sexism, addiction, campaign finance reform, and the conflict in the Middle East. Find a single issue near and dear to your heart, and start there.

And if politics isn’t your thing, don’t feel bad about that. Another thing that can cause anxiety for some is the pressure in the modern world to be “political.” But this is not a natural inclination for everyone, and definitely not the only way to enact change in the world. Maybe you devote your energy to being the best parent you can be, or the best police officer, or teacher, or grocery store clerk. Everything we do makes an impact on the world, whether that’s marching on Washington, or just plain being a kind person.

Beware of certainty. We all want to be certain we have the answers to the world’s problems, but certainty can be a trap. When we’re certain, we become resistant to information, we lose the ability to listen, and we actually set ourselves up for anxiety problems. We start to believe we are 100% right, and the other side is 100% wrong. We even start to believe that we are righteous and the other side is evil. So, naturally, when the other side wins an election, passes a new policy, or defeats one of our proposals, our threat response kicks in. We feel like we are in imminent danger. Because the really bad people are in charge. And if this sense of danger happens to last, say, I don’t know, 8 years, then we’ve got a chronic anxiety situation on our hands. Challenging our own certainty – realizing that our side doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, that the other side may sometimes be right, and that it’s even possible for both sides to have a point at the same time – this can be a hugely helpful skill in life for someone struggling with anxiety around politics.

Try politics as the side dish rather than the main course. When you’re getting together with others, try spending most of your time and energy on topics other than politics. Family, jobs, home improvement, cooking, books, TV shows, non-political news. There are a whole lot of other topics to cover.

Challenge some of your more rigid assumptions. They are probably making your anxiety worse. Have government programs become synonymous in your mind with giving out free stuff to lazy people? Has securing the borders become one in the same with racism? Look a little deeper, and you may find that these assumptions don’t hold up to scrutiny. Seeing the other side’s positions in such extreme terms will only lead to anxiety problems whenever you come across these ideas and opinions.

See the whole person. Has it gotten to the point where everyone to you is either a Republican or a Democrat? A conservative or a liberal? Try and remember that our politics are only a small part of who we are.

Take a break from the news. Make a conscious effort to use social media for something other than politics. In the modern world, you have to take active steps to decrease your exposure to politics. Otherwise, it will find a way to creep in and take over.

Pick your battles. If you decide to try out any of this advice, keep in mind that others may not. People will continue to upset you. They will talk about how much they despise the leaders you support. They will express opinions you find absurd or offensive. They will share dubious facts. But ask yourself if it’s worth engaging in such discussions. Are you going to get sucked into trying to change the mind of someone who has no interest in changing? Will you only end up making yourself more anxious and emotional? Or is this a good person to have a discussion with? Someone who seems able to listen, someone who’s okay with not being certain, someone who is interested in exploring their own assumptions about the world? See if you can become more aware of the two, and be more in control of whether or not you engage.

Lastly, be sure to laugh. And have fun. And play. Give yourself permission to do these things. Remember that enjoying yourself does not equal caring less. On the contrary, it will only help you to be less overwhelmed, more energized, and more effective in life.