Politics is a very exhausting, ever changing field. The current American election seems to be the most high stakes event with no way to escape hearing about it. We are in a state of media oversaturation where very few places are free from the looming spectre of the political machine. This adds to the stress of the continued global pandemic due to covid-19. The compounding of this stress can have many effects on the mind and body including nausea, chest pain, weight gain, anxiety, and depression.
So where to start?
A place to begin is understanding why politics are so stressful. To begin let’s understand the stress response. When you encounter a perceived threat or fear, the amygdala reacts. The amygdala is a part of the limbic system that is responsible for anxiety, aggression, fear conditioning; emotional memory and social cognition. The amygdala leads to the activation of the hypothalamus which activates the sympathetic nervous system leading to the release of adrenaline and cortisol which regulates the flight, fright, or freeze response. This response is the reason for most of the physical symptoms of anxiety and fear. These include short-term symptoms like racing heartbeat, fatigue, upset stomach, spikes in blood pressure, and shortness of breath; or long-term symptoms like decreasing the immune response, memory issues, increased signs of aging, changes in personality, and cardiovascular disease.
So what is it about politics that causes such an intense response? Well, part of it has to do with how the information is presented. Politics is a highly changed topic because personal is political. The things that a person values are directly related to the policies that they would be willing to endorse. This means that people often view political policies as directly relating to their identity which makes them more likely to have an emotional reaction to anyone who opposes a policy.
Another way politics are tied to emotions is how a policy is presented. An example of this is how Proposed Amendment to the 1970 Illinois Constitution is framed. This amendment, referred to as ‘Fair Tax for Illinois,’ proposes to change the flat rate income tax rate to a graduated rate similar to federal tax rates. When looking for information on this amendment how it is framed depends on the bias of the website discussing it. For example, certain sources against the amendment mention that while it is proposed that it will decrease taxes for 97% of people in Illinois, the elected politicians cannot be trusted with the money and will continue to increase tax rates when this fails. This is an example of catastrophizing, which is when there is a prediction of a negative outcome for a situation and then jump to the conclusion that if that outcome happened it would be a catastrophe. These websites use catastrophizing to look at the ways in which this amendment could fail to increase the fear response of the people that read their information. This framing of the situation in a way that elicits fears about specific things prevents people from critically examining other concerns that they may have about the new amendment.
Political journalism, including the news, is intended to present political information in an unbiased manner, that is thoroughly fact-checked. However, many opinion-based websites and tv shows frame themselves as if they are political journalism and it is hard to tell the difference. There is also the bias often pops up on different news sources based on the parent companies and other sources of income from the source (this information can be found by searching through the About Us section of a website). All of this happens in politics before addressing the 24-hour news cycle, social media, increasingly partisan politics, racial tensions, and the continued global pandemic. Politics are often framed as an individualistic system where everything that can happen or go wrong is based on the decisions of individual people without looking at the systems that are in place to perpetuate this system. This is a compex, intersectional topic that is multifaceted and affects Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) disproportionally more than other populations, and leads to a lot of stress, anxiety, and depression. Mental health needs cannot be forgotten when approaching politics.
So what can you do?
When it appears that the system is set up in a way to exhaust us physically and mentally, how can we approach this seemingly unending political season.
Here are some suggestions to take care of yourself.
- Be mindful and aware of how you’re affected by politics is to acknowledge and take steps to adjust as you need
- Accept whatever feelings are brought up in you when politics are brought up
- Unplug from the 24 hour news cycle and social media
- Good sleep hygiene
- Eat healthy
- Practice meditation
- Find spaces that validate your humanity
- Get involved (if you can)
“Our democracy cannot be left in the hands of those who would rather watch or participate in a train wreck than stop it.”–Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Stress can be debilitating, here at TriWellness our clinicians are skilled in assisting each individual in managing stressors. Contact us today to start your journey to wellness.
2 thoughts on “Politics and Mental Health”
“This means that people often view political policies as directly relating to their identity which makes them more likely to have an emotional reaction to anyone who opposes a policy.” What a well-written line! How are you managing the stress of the political environment? Do you think your mental health background is helping you?
We often use our skills to assist us in managing our stressors.