Lower Your Political Stress Level
A constant barrage of political advertising and infighting can raise your anxiety level. Here’s how to calm down.
A long election season is nearing its apex, and all the campaign fervor may have you feeling crispy around the edges. After all, what breeds anxiety like being bombarded daily with negative campaign propaganda, watching opponents trade accusations and insults, and listening as innuendos and suspicions are spun out into full-blown attacks and dire proclamations? Between the candidates, the issues and all the inflammatory media commentary, it can send your stress levels soaring.
According to Alan J. Lipman, PhD, a psychotherapist who specializes in the psychology of political behavior, the plethora of fear-based messages (a favorite during campaign season) can present a particular challenge. Prolonged exposure to political fearmongering can do serious harm to people who suffer from anxiety disorders, he says — but they affect us all, to some degree, by reducing our sense of groundedness in our own lives.
Political ad overexposure. The anxiety that comes from excessive exposure to campaign coverage, negative political advertising, and the inflammatory chatter stirred up by cable TV news and commentary programs as they cover election campaigns and candidates.
BARRIERS TO OVERCOME
Getting sucked in by the media manipulators. Political spinmeisters and their advertising-industry colleagues have made a real science out of knowing what motivates us to make choices, and which words and images will push our buttons.
Mistaking opinion for information. When you’re being bombarded by the manipulators, it’s easy to think that a strongly voiced opinion is real information, says Lipman, and then to convince yourself that you need more of what he terms “political junk food”: discord, conflict and gossip masquerading as real insight.
The lure of muckraking. When you’re a big fan of one political candidate, it can be exhilarating to get a taste of any nasty news about his or her opponent, no matter how venal or irrelevant. Gloating and ill-wishing may seem like fun, but they often produce a set of companion feelings — like seething resentment and hostility — that aren’t good for you.
Too much screen time. Obsession with political news can be a subset of media addiction — the inability to switch off the endless stream of noise and just sit with our own emotions. Too much time observing negative rants can also trigger the “mirror neurons” in our own brains, causing an unhealthy surge in associated stress chemicals.
HOW TO COPE
Notice when you’re being played. If you find yourself getting riled up, notice what emotions are being triggered, by whom and with what likely purpose. “The most effective way to defuse the anxiety around political fearmongering is to properly contextualize it,” says Lipman. “Realize that these messages are coming from a motivated point of view. The people who are giving you this information are not giving it to you because they want to paint a balanced picture of the world.”
Do some digging. In the face of fearmongering, Lipman advocates objective research rather than withdrawal. Dig into reliable data at nonpartisan Web sites like www.factcheck.org and www.votesmart.org to get clarity about where the irrelevant hype stops and where reality begins.
Switch off the screen. Don’t spend hours watching rehashed coverage or inflammatory commentary. Get the news you feel you need to do your civic duty (noting that reading political coverage is often less stressful than watching or listening to it) and then, in Lipman’s words, “go outside and play.”
Keep it in perspective. While political fearmongers like to overplay the imminence of scary scenarios as good reasons to vote for their party, keep in mind: “The fact that you are seeing something talked about on television during campaign season doesn’t mean that the actual probability of it happening to you is all that great,” says Lipman.
Shhhhh … Silent retreats are a great way to cut out the chatter, ease stress and get to know yourself again.
Origin: Silent meditation retreats, called sesshin, have been part of Zen Buddhism for centuries, and in the West, Greek monks called hesychasts (“silent ones”) developed a tradition of silent mental discipline and prayer that is still practiced today. Some Catholic religious orders, including the Cistercians and Carmelites, maintain silence for all or most of the day.
Benefits: “There is a power in keeping silence with other people that simply being quiet in your own house won’t give you,” says White. “In your house, there are a lot of things around you that support your habitual thinking. On retreat, you take yourself out of your habits so that something new can happen.” You become more comfortable with yourself and less dependent on what White calls “the supports you think you need to be in full possession of your own identity.”
Simple Steps: Seek out a silent retreat with a location and description that appeals to you. Retreat formats vary: They may feature unstructured time, formal meditation or worship, or spiritual talks given by a leader, or opportunities for discussion with a spiritual director. But mostly there will be plenty of opportunity for rest, reflection, time in nature, reading and sleep. Most centers will provide you with three daily meals at set times.
Plan to leave all your regular daily activities behind. “In everyday life you’re mostly giving and doing,” says White. “In going into silence, you intentionally choose a mode of receiving, consciously opening yourself to receive whatever your higher power, or nature, or your spiritual director is giving you. And because your distractions are gone, you’re very much in the present, and you can see what’s going on inside — what’s motivating you, driving you, challenging you.”
Let yourself be inspired by the environment. Many centers feature gardens to explore and labyrinths to walk. Take advantage of your cleared senses to enjoy them fully.
Please share with your family and friends.
Health and Wellness Associates