If you're already feeling anxious in this political climate and you're worried that the 2020 election will only makes things worse, you're not alone. In a recent study, nearly 40 percent of respondents cited politics as a source of stress, and 20 percent reported that they had experienced depression, insomnia, and exhaustion related to politics.
Anxiety is simmering over hot-button issues like gun violence, reproductive rights, immigration, and climate change. It makes sense that you, like so many Americans, would be fearful when these issues very likely directly impact you or someone you love. Unfortunately, you can't simply tune it all out, but these expert strategies can help you take care of yourself while staying involved and informed.
1. Don't Get Swept Up in the News Cycle
"There are ways to continue to be informed about politics but also protect oneself from unnecessary stressors or harm," Erica Rojas, PhD, a licensed psychologist and founder of Broadway Psychological Associates in New York City, told POPSUGAR. For example, if you're having trouble sleeping, reading headline after headline on Twitter probably won't help.
In fact, Alessandro De Nadai, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas State University, suggests setting aside a limited amount of time to read or watch the news — perhaps once in the morning and once in the evening, before you need to wind down. He explained that checking the news more frequently will only serve to trigger your anxiety.
2. Get Involved
This era in politics can leave you feeling helpless, but both experts emphasized that you can make a difference — and doing your part can help you feel better, too. While the presidential election captures the most attention, local campaigns are often the ones that need the most help. Dr. Rojas also recommends attending city council or town hall meetings or finding other ways to share your ideas with elected officials. "Taking active steps to address your concerns will alleviate feelings of hopelessness and strengthen your own sense of individual agency," she said.
If you want to lend financial support, "set aside a small budget to make campaign contributions either directly to candidates or to political action committees, which combined with others' contributions can add up to significant campaign funds," Dr. De Nadai suggested.
3. Step Back From Social Media
You'll inevitably see posts and comments you disagree with in the coming year, and while many political issues feel deeply personal, it's best to fight that knee-jerk reaction to argue with a former classmate or stranger. As Dr. De Nadai pointed out, there are more than 300 million people in the United States, the vast majority of whom don't hold the extreme views you'll find in your news feed. The people posting them aren't changing any minds, either.
"Consider what is the most impactful use of your energy and time," he said. Instead of worrying that one opinion will influence hundreds of others, donate your time and money to causes you care about that can actually make a difference. It could be as simple as contributing to a social media campaign started by a reputable, well-organized group that represents your views.
4. Set Boundaries With Family and Friends
Chances are you have friends or family members whose politics don't align with your own, and while these conversations can get heated, it can be helpful to adjust your expectations. Rather than trying to change someone's mind, "focus on expressing your beliefs in a calm and clear manner, and then take time to listen and acknowledge the other person in an open and nonjudgemental fashion," Dr. Rojas advised.
Even still, it's wise to set boundaries coming into a family gathering or a dinner with friends. If you're not in the right headspace to engage in political conversations, it's best to say that upfront, Dr. Rojas explained. "If conversations do arise, and you begin to feel yourself becoming upset, take a time-out," she said. "Step outside for a few minutes to grab some fresh air, head to the bathroom to take a few deep breaths, or maybe take a quick walk."
If you do engage, Dr. De Nadai suggests keeping it brief, then agreeing to disagree. "Sometimes this will reduce the back and forth [without] letting inaccurate statements go unchecked," he said.
5. Know Your Rights
The stakes are high for many people, especially those threatened by policies surrounding immigration and reproductive rights. "Keeping informed of your rights and asserting them in a calm and firm manner is of the utmost importance when you hold membership in a group that can be disenfranchised as a result of political reform," Dr. Rojas told POPSUGAR. For example, those who are undocumented should find credible sources that will help them stay current on immigration issues. "Fear and anxiety can significantly be reduced by being aware of one's legal rights, being connected to reliable information about immigration issues, and having access to legal immigration assistance if needed," she said.
To an extent, the same is true of reproductive health care. "Being informed of your state's laws, asking questions to medical professionals, and voicing your concerns all represent important steps in advocating for your own needs and strengthening a sense of agency," Dr. Rojas said.
6. Practice Self-Care
It may seem obvious, but often when you're stressed, self-care is the first thing to go. Dr. Rojas emphasized the importance of getting enough sleep, exercising, and nourishing your body with healthy foods. She also recommends finding ways to take "mental breaks." This can be something as simple as listening to music or relaxing with a good book.
7. Seek Out Support
"Research has consistently shown that supportive relationships can be helpful in preventing — and at times reversing — the damaging effects of toxic stress," Dr. Rojas told POPSUGAR. Find a friend or family member you feel comfortable with and ask for their support. Often, simply communicating your fears, concerns, or anxieties can significantly alleviate stress, Dr. Rojas explained.
If you find that your anxiety or depression is starting to interfere with your everyday life, make an appointment with a therapist — they can offer advice and strategies that are tailored to you.