I recently had the opportunity to co-write an article with Dr. Mahlet Endale of Crossroads Mental Wellness Services for the December 1st 2017 Newsletter of Midtown Family Wellness. Here it is:
Many people are experiencing increased stress and anxiety in the current political climate. Individuals across the political spectrum are experiencing the impact of an increasingly divided country. This is causing disruption in relationships, something that may even be experienced as families gather for holidays this time of year. I would love to share some of the best ways to stay grounded!
Issues that may trigger anxiety are hard to avoid with increased media coverage and social media attention. There is a lot going on right now with the aftermath of multiple natural disasters, the contentious political climate, two back to back widely publicized mass shootings, and the increased attention on sexual harassment and assault. Even individuals without a trauma history of their own, may experience a sense of heightened vulnerability. Every day we are bombarded with information that can have a compounding effect, adding to our own every day normal stressors that we all encounter through the course of our lives.
Information and news comes at us constantly between pop ups on our phones, social media, and the news. This constant exposure can have many impacts, including decreased work productivity, increased sense of powerlessness, relationship discord, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, and difficulty avoiding triggering our own histories and traumas.
What can we do to stay grounded?
- Attend to basic physical care, including sufficient food, physical exercise, and sleep. These are pieces that are often neglected in times of heightened stress. If your body is physically depleted, it reduces your ability to tolerate stress, so this is a good place to start.
- Increase awareness of how your body holds stress; it deserves attention as well your mind. It’s hard to attend to emotional concerns when our bodies are holding them. Tuning into tension in your body can help you know when we need to seek support from a trained bodyworker.
- Titrate media consumption. Media tends to re-hash the same content, so over-consumption doesn’t always lead to being more informed. Repeated exposure to traumatic and stressful items can make it harder to engage meaningfully when we become depleted. Be intentional about your media sources, and length of engagement. (Here's a resource on Self-Care For When Social Media Gets Too Toxic.)
- Be intentional about when you engage in hard conversations and seek breaks when needed. Engaging in conversation across differences is important, but it’s important to know your own boundaries and practice self-care.
- Practice mindfulness & gratitude. Anxiety stems from processing the past and worrying about the future. Mindfulness helps us stay in the present and helps reduce the intensity of the stress and anxiety. Research has shown that prolonged experiences with anxiety and depression create shifts in our neural pathways that can help perpetuate anxious and depressed thinking. Gratitude exercises have shown promise in creating new pathways that help counter the impact of anxiety and depression.
- Connect with others. Try not to stay isolated when you feel upset. Meaningful connections are helpful in buffering the impact of stress.
- Part of what makes information overload so stressful is a sense of hopelessness that anything could change all these large difficult problems. It can be helpful to connect to organizations that can empower you to have a positive impact.
Sometimes, you can do all the above and more and still feel negatively impacted by everything. If that’s the case, it may be helpful to connect with a mental health professional to help you get to a better place. How do you know when you need professional support?
It might be helpful to check in with someone if your usual coping mechanisms are not cutting it. You may feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing is working. Or, you are so overwhelmed that it feels like too much to implement these strategies. You can find a therapist that will welcome conversation about how to mitigate the impact of today’s socio-political stress on your life and relationships.
If you'd like to explore how counseling might help you, contact me for a free 15min consultation.