Can Politically-Charged Stress Make You Sick?

5 Steps To Well-Being

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Regardless of your party affiliation, chances are you or someone you know is feeling the stress of the political turmoil in this country. You can hardly turn on a 24-hour news channel or click on social media and avoid the constant stream of political issues around national concern. And political topics have become the center of conversations at social events that are supposed to be fun. In my private practice during the last year, clients have come into psychotherapy to work on personal issues. Inevitably, though, in the progress of treatment, they report a dark political cloud hanging over their presenting problem which makes it a double whammy for them. I have been astonished at the number of marriages divided, families torn apart and friendships de-friended on Facebook because of the tumultuous political state of the nation. When I speak with other clinicians across the country, they report the same pervasive political stress, adding to their clients’ already heavy personal burdens.

New Research Finds Pervasive Political Stress

The anecdotal observations of my colleagues as well as my own were confirmed by a recent study in PLOS/ONE which reported that 94 million Americans have been stressed by politics; 44 million have lost sleep; 28.5 million complain their physical health has been adversely affected; and 11 million have considered suicide because of stress-related politics.

A national survey by the American Psychological Association: Stress In America: The State Of Our Nation alsofound that nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say the future of the nation is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, slightly more than perennial stressors such as money (62%) and work (61%). Over half (59%) said they consider today’s political climate to be the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember–a figure spanning every generation, including respondents who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the September 11th terrorist attacks. And 59% of the respondents said that the current social divisiveness causes them stress. Participants from both political parties reported that the future of the nation is a source of stress with the number among Democrats (73%) significantly higher than among Republicans (56%) and Independents (59%).

5 Steps To Neutralize Politically-Charged Stress

As an American worker, you, too, might feel the uncertainty and unpredictability tied to the future of the country. And it could be affecting your health and well-being in a way that feels unique to this period in recent history. Ironically, modern technology is a mixed bag. While relieving you of stress on the one hand, the very electronic devices that save time, lives and improve the quality of life can also increase your stress if not properly managed. Here are some steps to take for your personal self-care.

1. Put the Kibosh on the type and amount of political information you consume. Today’s media news-feeds have vaporized the line between national issues and sacred hours of Shabbat, Sunday and what used to be the family dinner hour. Set boundaries around the streaming of politically charged information into your personal space. Unplug from electronics on breaks, at lunch and after hours. And limit the frequency with which you check your devices to a few times a day instead of intermittently.

2. Don’t be duped by the red alert ping from wireless devices when they invade your personal space or your train of thought with up-to-date political news-feeds. The lightning speed of today’s media stream can activate your stress response, provoking a cortisol/adrenaline squirt into your bloodstream. Then you respond to the immediacy of the device as if it’s a threat to extinguish. Allowing your wireless intrusions to call the shots automatically puts you in a foot race that can raise your blood pressure and leave you frazzled. Use custom ring tones for family, friends or coworkers when you want to screen calls during off-hours.

3. Limit political discussions in the workplace, at the dinner table and at social gatherings or cookouts with family and friends. When political topics bleed into work or social events, it makes it difficult to turn off your internal alarm system and curb your stress response. Plus, it can lead to tense interactions that spoil an otherwise pleasant occasion. I have attended social gatherings where the hosts request at the start of the evening that guests refrain from political discussions and instead enjoy hanging out and having fun with friends and family.

4. Volunteer with your local political party or become an activist to channel your stress into positive action. Much of politically-induced stress comes from feeling helpless to make a difference on such a mammoth issue. Sharing your concerns with people of similar political persuasions can provide a platform for you to vent your worries and concerns and make you feel part of a bigger support system. Taking action can make you feel as if you have a voice and a modicum of control–that you’re able to do something about the negative political climate and lower your stressful response to it.

5. Practice mindful meditation and yoga to offset stressful political news and reset your nervous system. Bringing your attention into the present moment, noticing what’s around you in your office or home and taking deep breaths will help you unwind, relax and recharge. And you’ll be less stressed and more productive in the long run.

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