Photo of cherry blossoms in bloom in Washington DC, a place of political stress.

6 Great Ways to Deal With Political Stress

In Education, Self-Care, Wellness by Courtney ArcherLeave a Comment

Politics is one of the most divisive subjects in our current time, and somehow, everything seems to link back to it. A lot of the things that fundamentally shape who we are and what we are able to accomplish (education, healthcare, the average workday) are how they are due to politics. With something so encompassing, it can be difficult to manage how to deal with political stress.

This is made even more difficult when people we know and love turn out to have vastly different opinions than ourselves. You might find yourself questioning the morality of people you thought you could trust. You might even find yourself questioning your beliefs.

Politics can create a sense of dysphoria in a person. This dysphoria shows up as a sense that others are living in a reality outside your own. It also appears when the layers of your reality crumble away and you find yourself living in a different world than you thought you did.

If you are struggling to deal with the current political climate you are not alone. Political stress is all but a given with the neverending stream of information and opinions available on social media. Add to that the uncertainty of whether the information and opinions are correct, and it is no wonder people are struggling to cope.

Reading this article will give you some ideas on how to regain a sense of wellbeing in the chaos we live in. Wherever you are, whatever your views, picking something from the suggestions below is a good start to being able to deal with political stress.

Photo of cherry blossoms in bloom in Washington DC, a place of political stress.

How to Deal With Political Stress

The first step to dealing with political stress is realizing that you have it. It is not too far of a leap to guess that you are here because you have already done that. Well done!

Below are a number of different suggestions for dealing with political stress. Some of them you might expect, and some of them you might not.

The ones that seem the most difficult just might be the ones that are the most helpful for you. This is all individual though, and sometimes starting with the easiest option is best because it will reduce stress the quickest.

Ultimately reducing any kind of stress comes down to two factors: ease and effectiveness. These two factors can go hand in hand, and they can also be polar opposites. As you read this article, evaluate the suggestions in terms of ease and effectiveness.

Generally, even if the easiest option is not the most effective, it still might be the best one to start with. Any initial reduction in stress makes it easier to keep going. Improvement in one area brings improvement in other areas.

Take a Breath

Let’s start with the easiest suggestion on the list, shall we? When you hear, learn, or read something that is distressing, take a breath.

Jumping right into an emotional response rarely goes as intended. Trust me, I know. This is something that I have been incorporating into my own practices pretty recently, and it has made a big difference.

Instead of responding to something right away, I pause and take a breath. This gives me the opportunity to figure out why I am reacting the way that I am, and if my initial course of action would do anything.

Do not just take my word for it though. Taking a moment to reflect and evaluate is a common emotional response skill taught in may different therapy modalities.

In DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) it is called the STOP skill. STOP is an acronym for:

  • Stop
  • Take a breath
  • Observe
  • Proceed mindfully

This one skill does not take much time, but it can make a huge difference. Furthermore, it is something everyone can do.

You do not have to engage in any tricky mental reasoning or processes. Just stop and take a breath so that you can respond in a way that is consistent with your values.

Remember Universal Needs

The next suggestion involves a little more mental power but is still completely doable.

When we humans disagree with each other, it can seem like the other person is on the other side of the world in terms of values and priorities. Even if the other person is someone you have known and loved your whole life.

Not only is this frustrating, but it can also be highly distressing and even alienating. You think you know a person, and then they do or say something that you never thought they would.

The thing is, this person is likely still the same person they have always been. Even if the views they are expressing are completely different than your own, you probably have far more in common than you might think.

This is why it is paramount to remember common human universalities. Not many things in this world are universal, but it just so happens that some of the most important things are.

While people go back and forth about what human universal needs are, I love Alison Lapper’s definition for it in her article, The Needs That Make Us Human: “To Love, To Be Loved, To Be Accepted, To Be Respected.” When we remember these needs, it helps alleviate the distress we feel when we feel that people who are important to us are completely different from us. Let’s discuss why.

Politics & the Need to Love

Often our political leanings have a great deal to do with the need to love. We display our political leanings through the ways we believe people need to be loved.

This may come across as tough love, it may come across as being a helicopter parent, and it may come across as something in between. The thing is, everyone needs to love. We just do not all agree on the way to do it.

When you find yourself feeling distant from the ones you love because you do not understand how they can believe the way they do, look for the way that their beliefs represent their need to love. You do not have to agree with them to see that they have not suddenly become a monster overnight.

Politics & the Need to Be Loved

Just like we all need to love, we all need to be loved. Our political leanings often reflect how we wish people would love us.

After all, the way we show love is often similar to the way we need to receive love. Love languages are not universal. This is part of what leads to the disconnect between how you show love and how your best friend shows love.

While love languages are not universal, the need to be loved is. Both of these truths are important to remember. Just because someone is not showing love how you would, does not mean they are not showing love.

And just because the way someone else shows love is not the way you need to receive it, does not mean that it is not the way someone else needs to receive it.

Everyone needs to show love. Everyone needs to receive love. And the way that we do both is different for everyone, and that is okay.

Politics & the Need to Be Accepted

The need to be accepted is not just something that makes kids (and adults!) crumble under peer pressure, it is something that makes us human.

It is not bad to need to be accepted. Communities are formed by people accepting other people and figuring out how to live side by side despite differences. Support systems live and die by acceptance or the lack thereof.

People do not necessarily choose their political party based on their need to be accepted, but it definitely plays in! We tend to migrate toward those who think similarly to ourselves.

However, we do not just choose political parties to protect ourselves. We also do it based on who we think will protect others, because we recognize the need to be accepted in others.

If someone disagrees with you on a big political point, try to look for the common human need for acceptance. Who are they accepting? How are they trying to be accepted?

The answers to these questions do not make a person right or wrong. They make them human.

Political stress gets overwhelming when we stop being able to find common humanity. Being able to find it can go a long way toward increasing your peace of mind.

Politics & the Need to Be Respected

Just as all humans need to be accepted, we all need to be respected. One of the most important levels of respect is respect for humanity.

Whether a person is Black or white, European or South American, democrat or republican, they are a human being. This means that they have worth. That they have meaning.

You do not have to agree with someone to respect them. Indeed, letting someone go blindly in a direction you believe will lead to failure is the opposite of respect. Silence in the face of danger is not respect.

But neither is yelling. Tearing someone down for their beliefs certainly is not.

Here is are the two keys to being able to be respectful even if you disagree: respect boundaries, and do not critique people. You can critique all the actions you want, but as soon as you start devaluing another person you have crossed the line into disrespect.

Disrespect rarely if ever leads to growth, changed opinions, or helpful outcomes. If you want to help someone, if you want to correct someone, you have to do it with respect.

And if that person says, “I don’t want your help,” they are setting a boundary. If they say, “Please stop pushing your agenda on my page/post/whatever,” they are setting a boundary. Accept it and respect it, and they will know that if they have questions in the future they can ask you because you respect them.

Cope With Political Stress by Researching the Other Side

That is enough on common humanity for now. Let’s move on to the next suggestion for dealing with political stress: researching the other side.

You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy throws the soapy water on the witch and it kills her? Sometimes it seems like people believe researching the other side will do the same to them.

Good news. You are not a witch, and having a clue of what the other side is going on about will not kill you.

In fact, it will make you a better advocate for your own side. This is another suggestion that I have found to be helpful in reducing my own political stress.

When I see something that is completely opposite of what I believe, my initial response is usually somewhere along the lines of confusion, frustration, and even anger. Sound familiar? This article about bias helps to explain why this is a common reaction to disagreement.

More good news: there are a couple of things you can do to check your biases.

Vary Your Sources

Getting your information from a variety of credible sources is huge! The key thing here is credible. Facebook memes and posts are not always credible, and it can be hard to tell which ones are and are not.

However, there are tons of sources that are. Mainstream news outlets like CNN or Fox News have their biases, and they also generally present different viewpoints that can be helpful. They are national outlets though, and sometimes it helps to find more local sources of information.

If your city has newspapers that have different biases, that is a great place to start. You can also look online for credible sources.

A great way to go about this is to determine what your bias is from the get-go. To do this, figure out what you think the outcome of your research will be before you begin it. Your answer is your bias.

Then do some research on both sides of the issue. You may not have changed your bias by the end of it, but you will certainly be more informed. You will also have a harder time demonizing the other side because you will have found at least a little understanding of them.

Demonizing people is a huge source of political stress. It is hard to feel good about the world when you believe half the people in it are evil. Vary your sources so that you can see people as people again.

Talk to a Friend Who Has Different Views

Another great way to check your biases is to talk with a friend to has different views. Ask them why they think the way they think and then listen.

The point of this exercise is not to change their mind or yours. The point is that you are talking to someone you actually like, who you do not think is the devil reincarnate, who feels and thinks the same way about you.

Remember that your friend needs to be respected and accepted, just like you, and give them the chance to talk about their reasons for things.

The hardest part of this is not interrupting. But if you really want to learn about and try to understand the other side, you have to curb that impulse to say, “but this is why you are wrong,” or “but you do not understand this.”

Just listen. Make it clear from the beginning that you want this to be a safe, respectful conversation, and that you are here to learn. You can even set a boundary that you are not interested in them trying to change your views, you just want to learn more about theirs.

Set Boundaries to Reduce Your Political Stress

Speaking of boundaries, setting them is perhaps one of the hardest and most important things you can do to decrease your political stress.

Being able to set boundaries is a skill, and one that comes with dedication and practice. It does not come naturally, in part due to those universalities we discussed earlier. We all want to love, be loved, be accepted, and be respected.

The problem is that setting boundaries sometimes does not feel very loving or accepting. However, it is one of the most loving and accepting things we can do for ourselves.

When we set and keep boundaries, we are respecting ourselves. Setting clear expectations for others to follow also helps us know who we can trust with our thoughts and emotions. It creates safe spaces for ourselves and our loved ones.

Common Boundaries to Set

While it may not be true for everyone, many people find that the people who cross their boundaries most often are themselves. This happens when we say, “I will not engage in this unhelpful behavior,” and then do engage. It also happens when we decide that we will do something beneficial for ourselves but do not follow through.

Often we do not respect our boundaries because we have not taken the time to figure out what our boundaries are. Doing so will help all of your areas of stress, not just your political stress.

As you likely know, though, boundaries are just as important to set with others as they are to set with ourselves. Boundaries, whether they are ones that we set for ourselves or for others, are necessary for personal safety and personal peace of mind. Some common ones are below.

Take a Breath

We talked about this earlier. Taking a breath, or employing that STOP skill, can make a pretty big difference in your level of stress due to politics. Setting the boundary with yourself to take a breath before responding is a great thing to do.

When you give yourself the time to respond, rather than react, you allow yourself to be guided by your values rather than your emotions. This is not to say that emotions are not helpful. Rather, it is to say that emotions should not be the only thing guiding you.

Taking a breath does not get rid of your emotions. Rather, it helps you understand them so that they can inform your decisions rather than forcing them.

Watch Your Social Media Intake

Another great personal boundary is to watch your social media intake. This applies both to time spent on social media, and types of social media used.

For example, if you feel stressed out every time you go on Facebook, but less so when you use Instagram, make yourself a guideline for how much time you spend on Facebook.

This can be as simple as deciding which apps you have on your phone vs. your computer. Or you can make it more complex by figuring out a schedule for yourself, like you only check social media after 8:00 at night.

Sticking to your boundary is more important than the way you do it. You can revisit it at the end of the week to determine if it is working or if it needs to be tweaked a little.

Decide Who to Spend Your Time On

Deciding who to spend your time on is another one that I have found helpful on a personal level. I used to try to provide education and information wherever I saw misinformation being spread. Not only was it exhausting for me, but I am also sure it was obnoxious for the people I was trying to help.

Social media is this interesting environment where we are “friends” with people who would otherwise be passing acquaintances. Just as you would not try to correct every passing acquaintance, you do not have to try to correct every “friend” on social media.

Neither do we need to take correction from every “friend” on social media. If you hardly know a person, you do not need to weigh in on their life decisions and you do not have to take their advice on your life decisions. You just don’t.

Furthermore, if people do not respect your boundaries, do not feel bad blocking them. Blocking everyone you disagree with is not really helpful for exploring your biases. However, if you repeatedly ask a person to be respectful online and they refuse, it absolutely 100% okay to block them.

If you ask them once and they refuse, it is okay to block them. If they show up in your online space and are disrespectful, it is also okay to just block them then without asking them to play nice.

Just try to distinguish between “being disrespectful” and “disagreeing.” Going back to our discussion on respect earlier in this article, critiquing someone’s views is not disrespectful. Critiquing someone personally is absolutely disrespectful and should not be tolerated.

Engage in Self-Care to Deal with Political Stress

Self-care is another one of those things that, when you do it, helps improve far more than just political stress. However, in highly political times you may find that you need more of it.

Self-care involves doing something that creates a sense of satisfaction, relief, and/or wonder. It is helpful for everyone at every stage of life. You can read more about it here.

When you remind yourself that you are capable, that life is good, and even that life is beautiful, it helps you find the motivation to keep going.

Part of the reason why politics can be so stressful is that they directly affect human lives. At the end of the day, most people want to do the thing that will help instead of hurt. However, we all have vastly different opinions on how to do that.

If you are beginning to feel like more and more people are selfish, unkind, and stupid, it is a good sign that you are burning out. Take a break. Take care of yourself.

The world needs people who care about other people in it. The world needs you. In order for you to show up for others, you have to show up for yourself. Please do.

Get Involved

Last but not least of these suggestions to decrease political stress is to get involved. Ultimately, getting involved is actually another form of self-care. After all, one of the three facets of self-care is finding or creating a sense of satisfaction.

If you are distressed about what is going on in the world, get involved. From grassroots organizations to charities where you can make donations, there are plenty of things that need doing.

Keep in mind our discussion on boundaries and self-care while getting involved. No need to exhaust yourself in dedication to a cause.

Rather, find something you can do that will make a difference. Often the first step is to educate yourself. Start there, and as your education increases so will your opportunities to become involved and make a difference.

In Conclusion

You are not alone in experiencing political stress, and you are not helpless against it. Indeed, there are many things you can do to decrease your political stress.

Begin with taking a breath and remembering common humanity. People are not evil for their opinions, and neither are you. We are all human.

Set boundaries, take care of yourself, and get involved where you can. Do not discredit the ways you have already made a difference.

If you have some more suggestions for ways to decrease political stress, please share in the comments below so that we can all learn together!

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