While we don’t want to avoid all news and casual discussions about politics, there are steps we can take to help us manage political stress:

Limit your media consumption. According to a 2018 study, Americans spend an average of 11 hours a day on average consuming news and social media. Engage enough to stay informed but carve out opportunities to disconnect from news and social media, particularly if you find yourself becoming distraught, anxious, or emotionally reactive because of it. Staying in a state of high stress over extended periods of time can be harmful to your physical and emotional health. Take media breaks when you need to without judging yourself.

Turn off non-emergency media notifications. Set a dedicated time once per day to check the news and set a timer to keep yourself accountable, turning off all non-emergency push notifications. These types of notifications often cause us to interrupt our current tasks and are meant to pull us into the article that comes up on our phones. This will cause our brain to make a cognitive shift from what we are working on to then focus on the article. It will then take us even more time and mental energy to shift back into a working mindset.

Limit discussions when appropriate about politics if you think it might create unresolvable conflict. Be aware of how much you’re discussing politics with friends, family members, or co-workers and whether they want to engage as frequently on the topic. People feeling secure enough to express their perspectives is positive, but not everyone is open to a discussion or debate about political topics that could be deeply personal and/or directly impact them. Designate some spaces at work and home as “politics-free” spaces where appropriate (such as the break room or the dinner time).

Recognize that stress and anxiety about what might happen are not productive. It is certainly fine to want to be prepared for potential outcomes, but we can also channel our concerns into making a positive difference on issues we care about. Consider volunteering in your community, advocating for an issue you support by contacting your Congressional representative or joining a local group that’s in alignment with your values. Try to channel that stress and anxiety into action when you can. Change what’s changeable and control what’s controllable – understanding the difference is powerful in managing our own stress levels.

Remember that whatever happens, life will and must go on. Direct your energies on the things that are in your sphere of control, such as our day-to-day routines and relationships with loved ones. Investing in those during times of stress can mitigate the impact of upsetting news and allow us to better maintain equanimity and feel grounded.

Set boundaries and decide how you’ll respond. It’s not a bad thing to care about politics and to become emotionally involved in them. However, it is important to set boundaries to prioritize our own mental and emotional health. Sometimes a political conversation is sprung on us while in a group, or we sense that someone with an opposing viewpoint is trying to invite us into a political debate. If you’d prefer not to engage, having a statement ready can really help. We may need a few different sentences in our mental “back pocket” to use when the situation arises. Practice saying it aloud a few times, and it will be easier to use when the time comes. Try something as simple as:

  • “I’ve been discussing politics a lot lately and would love a break to hear more about the other things going on in your life.”
  • “I don’t know enough about this topic yet to have a well-informed opinion, so I’d rather discuss something else right now.”
  • “This topic is deeply personal to me, so I wouldn’t enjoy having/hearing a debate about it. Let’s discuss something else.”
  • “I think that we view this topic so fundamentally different that there’s not a good reason to discuss it right now.”

Practice “values-based living.” Values-based living is the premise that the closer our everyday actions are in alignment with our values, we feel a greater sense of fulfillment and contentment in our lives. For example, if someone is passionate about helping the environment, then they could spend time sewing the button back on a shirt to save the environmental impact of buying a new one and having it shipped to their home, or plant flora that supports local bee colonies, or try to reduce their food waste through thoughtful meal planning. Our personal values and priorities may evolve over our lifetime, and they should as we grow in information and knowledge about the world, but we all have shared core values that help us guide our personal growth and also encourage us to be good neighbors to each other. Strive to live your values.

History is filled with turbulent and troubling times, just like our current news cycle, but don’t overlook the positive moments that are happening in your life. While no political process is perfect, democratic campaigns and elections give citizens many opportunities to express their beliefs and change their communities for the better. Stay safe and take care of each other.