How do you keep cool when your beliefs, ideologies, and convictions are put to the test?
Politics will always be a polarizing topic, hence the constant reminder by etiquette experts to “never discuss politics or religion in social gatherings.” But because of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, many of us find ourselves unwittingly barraged by information that, depending on our beliefs and ideologies, can be distressing. What should you do if you find government policies upsetting? How can you keep from feeling guilty or betrayed if close friends or family members have political views that are contrary to yours? How can you keep trolls from pushing your buttons?
To help avoid these negative effects to your mental well-being, here are some recommended ways to deal with politically-induced stress:
- Limit the time you spend engaging with political content
How many times a day do you check the news or the social media pages of your favorite politicians? If you are constantly looking at your phone to stay up to date, you are also increasing the likelihood of feeling anxious, angry, or sad over what you see or read. As a solution, try going online only a few times a day, preferably not in the morning so that you do not start your day with upsetting news. Also try to follow only fact-based, reputable, or primary sources so that the information is provided accurately and not biased in favor of a particular set of beliefs.
- Do not feed the trolls
A “troll” is internet slang for someone who deliberately posts inflammatory comments and argumentative messages online in an attempt to provoke, disrupt, and upset others. “Feeding” means responding to said comments, which is counterproductive because you are only giving them the attention that they crave. So instead of giving them the satisfaction of an angry reaction, remind yourself that they are just deliberately baiting you, and that the best way to shut them down is to ignore them.
- Be mindful of your surroundings when sharing political opinions
How do you talk about politics with your friends, family, or coworkers? While sharing thoughts on a certain political topic can hep broaden minds, it can also cause tension or bring up uncomfortable feelings if people do not think or feel the same way as you. So never make assumptions about other people’s beliefs, even if they are close friends or family members. Again – do not bring up politics during social gatherings.
- Be open to learning about other points of view
Now what if SOMEONE ELSE brings up politics? Instead of feeling dread, try to reframe the discussion as an educational opportunity to find out why others think differently from you. Their opinions might have been shaped a certain way because they were raised in an environment or encountered life circumstances different from yours. Choose to keep quiet and just listen; but if you want to engage, be sure to keep your questions balanced and respectful. Remember that the personalities and issues being talked about will change by the next elections, but your friends and (especially) family members are here to stay, so you need to maintain harmonious ties with them.
- Know you can always step away
If the conversation is really making you uncomfortable, you can either try to change the subject or step away from the table to preoccupy your mental space with something else. Go to the bathroom, or pretend you need to make an emergency phone call; either way, come back when you are feeling more collected.
- Get involved
Mahatma Gandhi said it best – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Being helpless over what is going on around you can be stressful and depressing, so try taking an action on an issue that you care about to exert some control over a situation. Volunteer with a community group, make donations, participate in activism, or write a letter to your city’s local officials – all these won’t necessarily solve the problem, but they can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Just remember to stay safe at all times, and always assess how the added responsibilities are affecting your mental health.
It is possible to find calm amidst the political storm. Just limit the time you spend reading the news, know when to engage and when to back off from discussions, and find ways to do your part in making the community better.