In a recent survey, 40 percent of Americans reported that politics caused them stress, and 1 in 5 reported losing sleep over political issues. People bring this societal stress to their jobs, their relationships, and their sense of self.
So, what can you do to cope with current events when the world feels so overwhelming? Try these strategies.
Understand How Current Events Affect Mental Health
You’ve probably heard that the personal is political. The political is also personal. For instance, a parent trying to navigate time off after the birth of a child in the midst of sleepless nights and a high-pressure job is experiencing a type of political anxiety, not an individual failing. Understanding that the struggles you experience are struggles others face, too, can help you feel less alone—and often, less guilty.
Spend some time thinking about how current events affect your mental health, as well as the mental health of colleagues. This may include:
- Triggering of generational trauma: People of color may react strongly to racism and xenophobia in the news.
- Feeling under threat: Politics affect daily life. You or your colleagues may worry about how societal stress could eventually affect your daily existence.
- The politicization of personal issues: Personal decisions like who to marry, which bathroom to use, and which medical treatments to pursue are now also the subject of aggressive political debate. This can feel overwhelming.
You can be affected by societal stress without even knowing it. The first step toward managing this stress is to understand its role in your life.
Try the following:
- Identify your unique triggers: Which pieces of news are more likely to affect your life? Which trigger generational trauma?
- Identify how the news might affect the people you care about or your colleagues: Consider how these reactions might affect you at work, and how the resulting stress could affect your team.
- Identify your coping strategies: This should include all coping strategies, including unhealthy ones such as excessive spending or getting mad at your spouse.
Develop Strategies for Managing Your Reactions to Societal Stress
You can’t eliminate the stress that results from political and societal issues, but you can work to respond to it in healthy ways. Try the following:
1. Consider which strategies might be most helpful, and when.
For instance, if you often experience stress in the morning while watching the news, consider replacing your morning news ritual with a walk, some time playing with your dog, or a nourishing meal.
2. Replace unhealthy coping strategies with similar healthy ones.
Consider what you’re getting out of your least healthy coping methods. If you love the thrill of buying something new, consider what else might offer a thrill-winning sensation, for instance, playing a word game or finding a rare plant outside. If you read the paper daily but find it stressful, consider switching out your paper with a novel.
3. Go on a media diet.
You don’t need to watch the news every day to know what’s going on in the world, and you don’t need to click on every upsetting social media link. Try limiting exposure to the news and seeing if you feel better.
4. Take action.
Many people struggle with feelings of powerlessness. Try volunteering for a cause you care about or spearheading a “get out the vote” effort to regain a sense of empowerment.
5. Make self-care part of your schedule.
Self-care is vital to well-being and a critical first step to taking care of others. It’s not selfish. Incorporate acts of self-care into each day.
6. Develop a grounding routine for when you feel panicked.
For many people, mindfulness helps, so take time to notice small things around you. For others, a few slow, deep breaths can help you feel less overwhelmed.
7. Practice radical compassion and empathy.
Compassion for others can improve your relationships, your experience at work, and your sense of human connection. Try the following:
- Assume that others are struggling, too: If someone disappoints you, rather than lashing out, consider that they might be suffering. That colleague who didn’t return your email could be caring for a dying relative.
- Ask open-ended questions to foster understanding: “Can you tell me more about why you feel that way? What can I do to help?”
- Acknowledge suffering, even if you don’t know what to say: If your colleague is dealing with a tragedy or the aftermath of trauma, don’t ignore it. Tell them you care. And if you don’t know what to say, it’s ok to say that, too. Develop a script like, “I don’t know what to say, but I do care about you and I want to hold space for you.”
8. Perhaps most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
No matter what you’re dealing with, professional mental health support can equip you with new coping skills and a deeper understanding of your own needs.
To learn more about stress at work, check out our “Coping with Current Events” webinar, led by Talkspace’s Director of Research & Programs, Liz Colizza, MAC, LPC, NCC.