Feeling stressed for no apparent reason? Us too. And this time, Mercury is not in retrograde. Thousands of Americans are feeling an undercurrent of anxiety and tension in their lives right now, and according to mental health experts, the country's traumatic political climate is definitely at play.
"Our country's current political state is creating a lot of stress because divisive decisions about big issues are being made every day," explains Erin Stair, MD, founder of NYC-based wellness company Blooming Wellness. Add to that the drama of social media, where "alternative facts" are thrown around like softballs, plus, I don't know, the constant threat of nuclear war, and it becomes really hard to know who and what to trust. "Uncertainty creates anxiety, and anxiety leads to paranoia, sleepless nights, breathing issues, social isolation, and more," explains Stair. It's a wonder we don't all live at our therapist's office.
This is all to say that politically induced stress is a legitimate thing. And according to David Ezell, clinical director at Darien Wellness, a mental wellness group in Connecticut, it all stems from one main source: control. "Recognize what you can control and change that to make your life better," Ezell says—that's the key to overcoming this fun new breed of anxiety.
Of course, it's hard to know exactly how to recognize what we can't control and change what we can. That's where our experts come in. Keep scrolling for their best advice on how to deal with our clusterf*ck of a political situation in a healthy way.
1. Only read the news in the morning.
It's important to stay informed, of course, but if your mental state is a priority, consider turning those all-day media alerts off. Instead, set aside some limited time in the morning to catch up on your news. Doing this early in the day, as opposed to on your lunch break or before bed, is key, says Ezell. The reason? Your "batteries" are recharged in the morning, putting you in a better place to cope with current events.
Also, be mindful of how you're consuming your news. Ezell says TV and YouTube videos can feel invasive. Try switching to less stimulating sources, like online newspapers or podcasts, and see if your stress levels improve.
2. Resist the urge to spend all day on Facebook.
It's easier said than done, but limiting your time spent on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit will cut out a lot of anxiety-inducing static. Sure, it's entertaining to watch your old college roommate and conservative uncle from Pennsylvania duke it out about climate change (how did those two become Facebook friends again?), but ultimately it isn't good for your psyche. Stair puts it like this: "Ideally an online forum is a great way to exchange ideas and have positive, productive conversations, but unfortunately not everyone is blessed with the art of discourse."
Needless to say, the faceless platform breeds a type of hostility that doesn't exist in real-life interactions. "If you want to fight or feel like you are hitting your head against a wall, by all means, engage," says Stair. "But if you want to reduce your stress level, stick to posting pictures of cats and dogs."
3. Start a mindfulness practice.
If there were ever a time to get into mindfulness, it's definitely now. This meditative technique trains you to experience actions and events in the present moment without judging them. "It teaches us to notice without reacting," Stair explains. Try attending a local mindfulness class (many yoga studios offer them) or downloading an app (Stop, Breathe & Think is a good one). "Once you learn the skill, you will be able to read a political conversation on Facebook without getting your blood pressure up," Stair says. Sounds appealing, no?
4. Don't feel guilty about disengaging.
Remember that allowing yourself to go on a political detox is healthy, not lazy—and mental health authorities agree that if your stress levels are high, stepping away from anything political for a while is the right thing to do. Stair recommends distracting yourself from any negative stimulation the moment it hits—weather it's an upsetting headline or conversation you're overhearing in real life—so that you can redirect your energy to something positive. She says that relying on a "stress-reducing prop" can help, like keeping a chamomile essential oil in your purse or taking five minutes to unwind with a soothing eye pillow.
Stair is actually the creator of a cool anti-stress product called the ZENBand ($23), a lavender-infused headband with built-in headphones. "I always tell clients to 'put on your ZENBand' when you feel like killing someone over politics—sort of like a security blanket," she says.
5. Let yourself gravitate toward humor.
Chandler Bing did it, and so should you: "Humor is a type of positive psychology and one of the best defense mechanisms we humans have," says Stair. Obviously, there are times when cracking a joke isn't totally appropriate, but Stair affirms that turning something upsetting into a funny story or remark can be stress-relieving for everyone, as long as it's not coming from a spiteful or ill-intentioned place. "You want positive humor, not negative humor," she says. "You'll laugh, others might laugh, and stress will dissipate."
6. Make your body a priority.
Mental health experts agree that the stronger and healthier you are physically, the better you'll be able to cope emotionally. Instead of letting yourself mentally spiral over current events, focus on simple acts you can do for your body. "Work on making better food choices, incorporating movement throughout the day, and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night," Ezell suggests. Your mental and emotional wellness will follow.
7. Take to the streets.
Again, focusing on what you can control, as opposed to what's out of your hands, is the key to relieving politically induced stress. "What you can do at your level?" Ezell poses. "Give money or time to a candidate? Run for office yourself?"
"Turn thoughts into productive actions," Stair suggests. If you don't know where to start, bookmark the website 5 Calls, which offers a simple guide to five calls you can make each day to your representatives based on the issues you care about.
Want more anti-stress advice? Check out how to wake up happy every day, according to a laughter therapist.
This story was originally published on May 3, 2017.