Americans are stressed out about politics. We are stressed about the future and we are stressed about surviving Donald Trump. Within the last year, I have so often found myself having if-these-walls-could-talk moments as client after client comes into my psychotherapy office wanting to discuss politics instead of their own lives. Of course, the content and types of talk vary from person to person: Trump, North Korea, Russia, racism, LGBT rights, health care, taxes, the environment, white supremacy — to name a few.
Everyone seems to have several issues they find particularly appalling and hone in on those over others, but what is consistent about every political discussion I have these days is the clear undertone of fear, worry and stress. If my clients are a microcosm for the majority of Americans, then I know one thing with certainty: People are frightened about the future, and this fear is permeating people’s everyday experiences to the point of politics feeling personal instead of societal in nature.
The American Psychological Association recently released a report called “Stress in America: The State Of Our Nation.” The data gathered found that a whopping 63 percent of Americans view the current state of our country as either somewhat stressful or significantly stressful. These numbers are higher than the same participants’ responses about both stress and money and stress and work. Just under 60 percent of this same group also reported that they believe this period is the lowest moment in American history within their living memory.
There’s no denying that we are living in a saddening and perplexing time. While there is clearly no quick fix to America’s unique current relationship to stress, there are some things that we each can do to mitigate stress. First and foremost, talk, talk, talk about your feelings! Whether it be in therapy or with a friend or loved one, we all need to be expressing ourselves on a regular basis.
This is true of all emotional experiences. Through the expression of emotion, we find ourselves, in some way, less burdened by our feelings, making them a little bit easier to tolerate. I can’t stress the importance of this enough; however, this brings me to the next important point: choosing the right people with whom to talk about these topics! It’s crucial that we try our best to avoid situations where political discussion with people of opposing views is likely. If a circumstance arises where outright avoidance isn’t possible, it is a good idea to consider boundaries you’d like to maintain before entering the situation. I would even suggest going as far as to decide what response you’ll give to someone trying to engage you in a contentious political discussion. In other words, how are you going to extricate yourself? This isn’t just true of in-person interaction but also of social-media communication.
More data from the study mentioned above found that six out of 10 people experience divisiveness among friends on social media as a cause of significant stress. The good news here is that this is something we can easily control. The feelings of powerlessness created by the current state of America can often feel profound and anxiety-inducing. With that, it’s crucial that we take control where it’s available and we can and should take control of our own intake of news, interaction and especially contention on social media. While it may be uncomfortable to cut back on the mindless stimulation that comes with a quick scroll through Facebook or Twitter, it’s worthwhile to consider the benefits of cutting back.
As it relates to the news and interactions that we choose to partake in, don’t skip over small successes. In the last almost-10 months, mostly due to Trump’s relative ignorance of the law and of governing generally, we’ve had some things go our way. The travel ban that repeatedly got shut down, health care failing to be replaced, the recent indictments of higher-ups from the Trump campaign and this past week’s big Democratic wins in New Jersey and Virginia. We absolutely must celebrate these wins. Why? First, because we deserve to, but also because if we don’t, we’ll become far too grim and sad, and there is something to be said for holding onto hope and optimism.
We’ve just passed the one-year anniversary of Trump winning the election and there’s no denying it’s been a rough go of it since. What we know after this year is that, whatever comes next also won’t be easy but there is still hope, and we can fight and are fighting. What we must remember is that we deserve for our personal lives to be uncontaminated by politics and all the ugliness that comes with it. So, take regular breathers, unplug when you can, don’t forget to self-protect and practice gratitude every time it’s warranted.