The political climate in the U.S. today is characterized by unprecedented divisiveness. Irreconcilable differences in political beliefs can strain relationships, controversial policies can cause stress and the uncertain future of key reforms keeps many people up at night.
Unless you completely seal yourself off from the internet and social media, it’s easy to feel like you’re being bombarded with news from Washington. The front pages of all of the major news publications, Twitter and Facebook are saturated with Trump headlines. My phone rings more from news alerts than it does from actual messages (sigh). The compulsion many of us feel to stay informed about what the president is doing and saying seems to be at odds with our desire to stay sane and emotionally stable. And this stress is taking a toll – so much so that people increasingly turn to professionals for advice.
It used to be relatively uncommon for people to discuss politics with their therapists, but the topic is arising more frequently now. According to data cited by CNN, requests for appointments with online therapy company Talkspace tripled right after the election, with the greatest increase occurring among Muslim-Americans, blacks, Jews and the LGBTQ community.
Talk of politics may also hurt workplace productivity. According to a February survey of 500 U.S. adults employed full-time, 87 percent said they read political social media posts during the workday. Twenty-nine percent of workers reported that they have been less productive at work since the election, and that number increases to 35 percent among those who read 10 or more political social media posts per day. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent), said they’ve talked with their colleagues about politics since the election and 37 percent have discussed it with their boss. Almost half (49 percent) have witnessed a conversation about politics turn into an argument at work, and that number is even higher among millennials (63 percent).
Interpersonal conflicts that arise because of politics pose a tricky situation. People are passionate — and therefore disagree passionately — about politics because they see certain policies and decisions as either aligning with or opposing their personal belief systems. While everyone has the right to their own opinions, it can be difficult for some people to get along once they realize they may not share certain fundamental values.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, we can all agree that the political climate today is contentious and stressful. Here are four tips for staying sane despite it.
- Take a break from the news. Keeping informed on every piece of news and tweet coming out of the White House is nearly an impossible task, and trying to do so will inevitably lead to stress and diminished productivity at work. Instead, designate certain times of the day for checking your go-to news sites and social media feeds. Pair your news consumption with your morning coffee or your commute to or from work (unless you’re driving!) and don’t obsess over it. Subscribing to an email newsletter that summarizes the biggest news stories each day is a great way to get the information you need without spending hours shuffling from one story to the next.
- Don’t get involved in debates via social media. Debate is healthy and important. Having candid discussions with people who have different opinions can help broaden your perspective and help you stay open minded about important topics. However, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are not the best forums to do so. Even though you might know the person with whom you’re debating, the fact that these conversations occur online and not face-to-face increases the likelihood that the people involved will say hurtful things to one another. It’s also unlikely that anyone participating in these debates will leave the conversation with a different opinion than when they entered it.
- Make time for stress-relieving activities. If you’re feeling stressed out, it’s important to figure out how to relieve that stress in a healthy way and engage in those practices on a regular basis. Exercise is an effective way to do this, such as running, yoga, spinning or weight lifting. Meditation can also be extremely helpful. According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation helps those who practice it increase self-awareness, cultivate greater resiliency against the emotional and physical effects of stress and reduce negative emotions. Other activities, such as spending time with friends, cooking, watching movies and seeing plays can all provide respite from politics-induced angst, and they’re fun.
- Prepare to disagree — politely. It’s inevitable that friends, family members, co-workers and even strangers will find themselves disagreeing about politics, so it’s a good idea to prepare to handle these situations civilly. Statements like, “I see where you’re coming from, but…” “I respect you and your opinion but I have to disagree…” “I haven’t thought about it that way before — here’s my thinking on this…” allow you to state your beliefs without the conversation devolving into a full-blown argument. If you want to engage in some healthy debate, you’ll be wise to avoid criticizing someone’s intellect because you disagree with him or her.