This is a topic that I have been noodling on for quite some time. As a Stress Reduction Coach, there are STILL areas of my life that I find quite stressful. If I think of the one that’s at the top, and it’s at the top because I don’t always feel the most equipped to deal with it, it’s politics.
I live in Alberta and we recently had a provincial election that has very much divided the province. It feels like we’re starting to experience the divide that exists in the U.S. and in the U.K., and I’d list other countries, but I’m not as well-versed in their politics. It feels like every country is experiencing a harsh divide in large part, I believe, due to the increase in media and infotainment that is flooding our lives.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The question is what do we do about it? As I see it there are three options for how we can choose to engage with politics. Option one, we avoid politics at all costs. We don’t engage, we don’t read the news, we unfollow any accounts that talk about it, and instead we hone in on our own lives. Option two, we dive headlong in. We are beyond passionate about politics, share our opinions loud and proud, and we are involved in an active way. Option three is where I think most people want to live – we are informed in order to make decisions, but we are not letting politics rule our lives and our stress levels.
I aim for option three, but the problem with that is it is SUCH a fine line between being informed enough, and being flooded with information that enrages us. Let me be clear, aiming for option three does not mean every day is a precise balance (I frankly don’t believe balance is a thing anyways), but that we’re striving for more equilibrium.
So, how do we get there? I’ve been thinking long and hard about this, and have been implementing the following five strategies which have personally made a positive impact on my relationship with stress and politics.
Choose Your Media Consumption Wisely
So much media these days is infotainment. They provide a little information, but they’re aiming for your clicks, which they garner through shouting headlines, frustrating images and choice words aimed to rile you up. If you turn on the TV (yes, people still watch TV), much of the news feels more like opinion shows, yet they don’t specifically state that they are opinions.
Context is rarely provided anymore, and I don’t know about you but in my own life I could point to several moments where if you plucked a statement of mine out of context, it would sound horrific and out of line with my values. In context, it makes much more sense and is not enraging. Same goes for infotainment.
So where can you go to find actual NEWS that is more fact-driven? I don’t have the exact answers for you, because it depends what city and country you live in. What I would suggest is that you start reading news sources with a critical eye. Do they present both sides, or is it more biased? Does it feel opinion-driven? Are they painting one side as good and the other as bad? That’s a great indicator, because news organizations know that good vs. evil sells. It’s harder to sell a balanced portrayal of a situation, and yet THAT is the news source you should seek out if you want to be informed and tone down your stress levels.
In Alberta, my favourite podcast to listen to about the news is Daveberta, who is a fellow Alberta Podcast Network member. For the most part, they really aim to provide a balanced view, including bringing in guests who share different viewpoints. It also comes out every two weeks, so I find that I’m getting the top information as opposed to a constant stream of information that could throw each and every day off course.
When it comes to social media… I am steering clear of Twitter these days. Twitter feels less like a friendly place these days and more like the easiest venue to throw barbs at strangers. On Facebook I choose to mute friends who share political content that is vastly opposed to my beliefs or that falls into that infotainment category. Let’s be clear, I’m not living in an echo chamber (remember, I read the news!), but I’m trying to keep my friends my friends.
Avoid the Comments Section
Let’s say that you do click on a news article that someone has shared on social. ABOVE ALL ELSE DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS SECTION.
The all caps was more for myself than for you. The comments section is like a drug. We’re pulled there because we’re looking for validation that other people think the way that we do, but instead we find pure rage. Total strangers insulting one another for everything from their political views to how they misspelled a word.
The comments section will not bring you validation, it will not provide you with educated viewpoints, it will bring you more stress. End of.
I know it’s an addictive scroll, but this one action will seriously decrease your stress if you’ve been struggling with it.
Get Up Close
When the last election happened, I realized how much I live in a bubble, because other than the workplace, I surrounded myself with people who think like me and vote like me. I was so troubled by the ramifications for human rights under the current political leaders, and I wondered how on earth people voted for this party.
And then as that week passed, I interacted with a number of people who help out my family in many ways. Our pipes burst, so the plumber came in. Our car was on the fritz, so we went to the garage. I had a number of appointments for paperwork related to our passports, insurance, etc.
Statistically… 60% of people that I would be engaging with voted that way, and yet I had pleasant interactions with all of them.
The thing that Brene Brown talks about in regards to political divisiveness is the need to get up close. It’s easy to vilify people from a distance, but get up close and you likely want the same things.
I massively disagree with many of the policies of my current government, but I can only assume that the people who voted them in want an economically viable province, they want their kids to grow up safe, they want good health care and education for their kids. We drastically disagree on the HOW, but I don’t think we disagree on the WHY. We might disagree on how many degrees of separation from our own family unit we should look out for, but we don’t disagree about looking after our own.
If you watch Queer Eye, in Season One there was the episode with the Republican cop. He and Karamo were in the car together discussing police violence towards black people. They had a conversation that is typically screamed in headlines, but not discussed with civility, and as a result they actually got somewhere and came to an understanding that they want the same thing.
Usually we’re screaming about the outliers, yet we paint people with the same brush. When you get up close, you usually find that we want the same things, but we disagree about how to get there. Focus on the why.
Set Clear Boundaries
Following on “get up close”, if that is not a place that you feel capable of for the safety of your mental health, then set clear boundaries.
I no longer have political conversations at work. They stress me out too much, and it makes work a less pleasant place to me. If someone were to start a conversation with me about politics in the workplace, I would say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t discuss politics at work.” Simple as.
In episode 97 of the podcast we talked specifically about how to set boundaries in a variety of situations, so I suggest you check out that episode. The basics of a boundary is you determining the behaviour that you’re comfortable with, stating what that is, communicating the consequence that will ensue if your boundary is not respected, and then enforcing it. And repeat. That sounds simplistic, but I suggest you check out the previous episode to see tangible examples of boundary setting and practice it for yourself.
Guaranteed if you’re feeling angry with someone, it’s because a boundary has been crossed.
My final note on this – don’t feel bad if you don’t know how to set boundaries. Most of us were never taught this, because our parents were never taught it. Many of us learned this for the first time in therapy or on our own personal development journey. The best time to start is now.
Take the Political Action That You’re Comfortable With
At a minimum, I do believe that everyone should vote, particularly women given how much we have fought for the right to vote.
Beyond voting, I think you have to take the level of political action that you’re comfortable with. For example, I am NOT comfortable volunteering to canvas. My brain gets riddled with scenarios where I’m told to go bleep myself, and so that is a political action I don’t ever think I will take.
I am however comfortable writing to local representatives about my concerns. I am comfortable donating – albeit it’s not in huge dollar amounts. I am comfortable sharing real DATA that I find that supports policies I’m fighting for.
I am not comfortable getting into Twitter battles, and I no longer receive political mailings (I find all parties to be hyperbolic in their positions and all of them add unnecessary stress). I am not comfortable trying to persuade you to think differently (this is new for me, but I’ve decided it’s a hill I’m not willing to die on). I’ll share information, but I’m not having that debate with you one on one anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, if the time comes where I need to protest for human rights, I’ll be there, but I am choosing not to dive into this head space on a daily basis.
I understand that this probably reeks of privilege. It does. But I’m the only one that is in charge of my mental health. I’m the only one that has to live with my thoughts, my stress, the weight of my challenges, and so it is my choice and my privilege to decide how deep I’m willing to dive into politics to maintain mental health. And it is yours as well.
Okay, so that’s where I’m at as far as stressing less about politics. I’m curious, where do you land on this? Are there other tips that you use to keep informed, but not overwhelmed? I’d love to hear about them. Comment below, or connect with me over on Instagram @stresslessladies It goes without saying that I don’t want to hear about your politic viewpoint, only about how you manage your stress around politics.