If you find yourself upset by the news, ready to fight for your position, and constantly fretting about the future, you are not alone. The polarizing nature of public discourse today is affecting people of all political persuasions. In fact, it has a new name: political depression.
Doctors started reporting increased complaints of anxiety, depression and fear on both sides of the political divide before the 2016 election. According to one researcher, we are feeling more political stress today because most of us don’t feel comfortable talking about politics in public anymore.
“We now are in a situation where you might keep views to yourself,” says Maimuna Majumder, a research fellow at HealthMap and a PhD candidate in Engineering Systems at MIT. “You don’t know if it’s safe to talk to your friends and neighbors about it. Humans are social creatures, and when you start limiting what you can and cannot say, it can cause a lot of damage.”
Majumder studied Google searches and found correlations between election-related terms and those related to anxiety and depression. This election, she wrote in Wired, “has likely had adverse effects on the mental health and wellbeing of American citizens.”
Doctors agree that whatever the cause, persistent anxiety is a problem. Anxiety is a form of constant physical stress, and physical stress can lead to serious health complications, including weight gain, weaker immunity, lower fertility, heart disease and, if untreated, serious depression.
Long-term stress can have a detrimental effect on your hormones and organs and even shorten your lifespan. There is a saying that people who worry a lot eventually start worrying about health complications. The physiology can absorb a certain amount of bumps in the psychology, but when stress becomes chronic, the entire mind-body system can suffer.
There is another important reason to make staying calm and stress-free our priority—it’s one of the best things we can do to help our loved ones. Chronic stress not only impairs our enjoyment of life and takes a toll on mind and body, it also affects those around us.
“I burst into tears upon hearing a certain bit of news,” said a young mother who is a friend of mine. “But then I realized that I couldn’t be constantly upset around my two-year-old daughter. She becomes agitated when I’m agitated. I want to protect her from stress, not be the cause.”
And the same is true about our national political arena. It doesn’t solve our nation’s problems by becoming a problem ourselves. Instead, we can become part of the solution by radiating peace and well-being to others.
To prevent chronic stress from high-jacking your good health and happiness, here are four ways to stay calm in turbulent times.
- Embrace Mother Nature. Can’t stop your mind from obsessing on negative political scenarios? Try taking a walk in nature. According to a study by Stanford University researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in TheAtlantic.com, a 90-minute walk in a park resulted in markedly decreased “rumination” (obsessive negative thought patterns that can lead to depression). And of course regular exercise is a known antidote to stress and depression.
- Channel your anxiety into constructive action. Rather than feeling helpless, which fosters anxiety, networking and forming supportive friendships with like-minded people can help banish feelings of isolation and hopelessness. For instance, you might join a local neighborhood association or nonprofit where you join real people who are helping real people. Or if you are politically minded, joining a phone bank to contact congressmen, or participating in rallies can help build confidence in the political system and relieve anxiety. Many women around the world found it heartening and supportive to be in the company of other women during the January Women’s March, for instance.
- Unplug. It’s becoming accepted wisdom that unplugging from social media, news alerts, emails, computers and smart phones at least once a week is good for your mental health. Using the time for in-person visits with friends and family can help you to gain perspective and relieve anxiety. Try it and see!
- Transcend. Practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day. Some call it the ultimate way to unplug. By closing your eyes and transcending twenty minutes twice a day, you experience the vast reservoir of peace, happiness, and joy inside of you. And when you open your eyes, it’s a whole new world of peace and harmony. Except it’s not the world that has changed, it’s you!
This is not just a feel-good idea—solid peer-reviewed research shows that TM is the most effective self-help tool in reducing chronic anxiety and stress. As just one example, research funded by the National Institutes of Health has found that during the 20 minutes of TM practice people experienced a significant decrease in a major indicator of stress—the hormone cortisol.
And by reducing your stress load you become less vulnerable to stress in your daily life. In other words, many women who relieve their minds and bodies of stress in their daily TM practice not only begin to perceive the world as less stressed, but over time they report becoming less reactive to stressful situations (such as the news). And because TM enlivens the pre-frontal cortex, a person automatically makes more intelligent decisions. When you feel good, you tend to do the right thing—for yourself and others too.
Research backs up this notion. A study conducted at the University of California at Irvine using advanced FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging technology) found that people practicing TM for as little as five months were 50% less reactive to a stressful stimulus than when they started TM practice.
Perhaps you have your own tried-and-true ways to manage stress. Whatever it takes, find your calm center and live your life from there.
As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the Transcendental Meditation technique pointed out, we can’t end the darkness by analyzing it or arguing about it. The way to end the darkness is to turn on the light.
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, TarcherPerigee, 2016, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.M