When Politics and Mental Health Collide

Political topics have always had some connection with mental health, whether regarding the general welfare of those in the country, the stress some political issues can cause, or simply in how we form relationships with others who may have different beliefs than we do. Unfortunately, the current political climate has enhanced how impactful these topics have been on people’s mental health. I have shared a hypothetical story with clients before when they are being self-critical about how much they are impacted by politics these days that illustrates this point: If I had been counseling in the year 2000 during the hotly contested election of George Bush Jr. and Al Gore, and a client came to my office and told me their primary mental health stressor was the election, I would recommend they look more around their own life day to day and be less focused on a topic that is likely not going to majorly change their day to day life. However, if a client states now that the political problems of today are causing them anxiety, depression, or other issues, I do not feel they are too focused on issues outside their purview and instead am in total understanding as to how their personal life is being impacted.

This is not dependent on a person’s political viewpoint. In the current world we live in politics have become personal for those across the political spectrum. The reasons for this are numerous, but the purpose of counseling is not to correct the larger societal issues that are causing problems but to help individuals navigate the reality they are faced with. This blog will explore some things that I have found that has helped clients in recent years handle the political stress that we are surrounded with on a daily basis.

Limiting Exposure

Politics are now everywhere it seems. Every conversation, every sporting event, every family gathering, every street corner covered in signs. There is more political exposure than ever before, and the technological world is only one thing that has allowed this exponential expansion. While we will not be able, nor should we desire to, completely avoid all exposure to political discussions, we can use some common sense to avoid being overwhelmed with this type of stress. The biggest one I have recommended to others and have seen improvement in their mood is avoiding the 24/7 cable news channels. Regardless of your political affiliation, there is a lot of evidence that watching these channels has a negative impact on our mental health. The news media in general is in the business of selling anxiety to increase their ratings, and the political channels are no different. Their tone, headlines, and even the graphics used are there to spark an emotional reaction that when exposed to for long periods of time, gives us an anxiety response without us even noticing.

Being informed is a good thing, but there are ways to do it while limiting our exposure to toxic media is important to not create a cycle where we are anxious and seek additional information to calm us down. The 24/7 cable news channels are a breeding ground for political commentary that will upset and scare us, when we will get plenty of exposure to the information in more calm ways through reading about it or watching the local news.

Set Personal Boundaries with Topics

There is no way to change political problems by ignoring them, so we cannot simply refuse to ever discuss these topics. However, we can have our own boundaries for where/when/and with who we allow these topics to be discussed. We cannot force others to always respect these boundaries, but our actions can stop us from being caught up in political topic discussions too often. Even with people we respect in terms of their opinions, we need to be mindful of how much we are putting our mental state into these highly contentious and often unpleasant topics. A good motto for deciding whether or not to have a political discussion with someone is to “know your audience”. In this context, this phrase means that we need to know who we are engaging in political discussions with and how productive the conversation can be with a particular person or persons. For instance, I have one person in my own life who we get along perfectly well in every other context except when politics are involved. I have found that this person behaves poorly, gets insulted and starts insulting others, and is prone to angry outbursts whenever their political views are challenged. For this reason, I set a boundary with them that if they are interested in discussing politics, they need to look elsewhere from me as I will not engage in the conversation with them for the risk of it going into an unpleasant and unproductive direction is too high.

Set your boundaries in terms of location/setting as well for political topic discussions. The workplace is often not a great place for these topics as the work that needs to be done may get sidetracked due to people’s political passion taking over and creating conflicts. Family gatherings or large social events are also not ideal settings as there is often a bigger focus that does not need to be overshadowed by political discussions. Think of a celebratory party for someone graduating, or a wedding, or even a funeral. All of these large gatherings are improper for political discussion as there are things that deserve more focus and attention during this time. Be careful not to misinterpret this as a call to only discuss political topics with those who totally agree with you. This creates an echo chamber effect and is not a good way to expand our views of the world, but we also do not need to be frequently stuck in conflict with others when there are more pressing things to be addressed in different settings.

Setting these boundaries does not need to be forceful or even a source of conflict. We can pleasantly explain to others that while we are not going to engage in a political conversation with them at that time, or ever, it is not a sign of dislike or even disagreement with them. Many people expect any person who doesn’t immediately agree with a political statement they make to argue back. If we instead simply acknowledge their opinion but make it clear we are not interested in engaging any further, it is likely they will be receptive to our boundary.

Get Involved

On a blog about not overloading oneself with political issues and stress, getting more involved may seem counterintuitive. But if we look at this from a mental health perspective, the worst thing a person can do is stress over an issue and not be acting in trying to solve it. Watching political news and talking about it without being actively engaged in making change is the same as having anxiety over things that you have no control over. This is the combo to avoid, obsessing without acting. If you are a politically motivated person, spend time being active in whatever political actions you can take without spending too much time sitting and thinking about problems. This will give your mind a more positive attitude towards political issues and see them as things you can enjoy being a part of instead of stressing over in your personal time. If you are not a political person, reducing exposure is your only strategy to reduce the stress it causes. If you are politically motivated though, get active in whatever way you can where you can have tangible positive results that your stress and anxiety can be channeled into.

If you are feeling stress and anxiety due to the political turmoil we are currently facing, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


LECS Counselor