The Mental Health Impact of Politics: 8 Ways to CopeReading Time: 4 minutes
Fear. Hopelessness. Anger. Hatred. Exhaustion. Political events at home and abroad, like the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade or the war in Ukraine, can catalyze a wide range of emotions and reactions. And with social media and streaming platforms bringing us nonstop coverage of these events as they unfold, the mental health impact of politics is exponentially multiplied.
A full 40 percent of Americans identify politics as a significant source of stress in their lives, and about 5 percent have actually considered suicide in response to political developments. Research shows that young adults are among those most affected by political upheaval, particularly young people who experience higher levels of anxiety and distress in general.
The Impact of Politics on Well-Being
Political strife can affect individual well-being in a variety of ways. It can damage relationships, disrupt self-care, and even lead to physical symptoms. A survey of more than 800 Americans found the following statistics on how politics impacted their state of mind and physical health:
- More than 25 percent felt depressed when their candidate lost an election.
- 1 in 5 had lost sleep over politics.
- 20 percent reported feeling fatigued because of political news.
- 29 percent reported losing their temper over politics.
- One quarter said they felt hateful toward those with opposing political views.
- More than 20 percent have had political disagreements damage their friendships.
Moreover, about a third of respondents reported that political unrest triggered compulsive behaviors. Specifically, they found it difficult to stop consuming political information or stop thinking about politics.
Politics is a chronic stressor, something that people see as consistently taking a toll on their social, emotional and even physical health across the long term.
Researcher Kevin Smith
Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
How the Stress of Political Upheaval Erodes Resilience
Chronic stress, regardless of the source, taxes our resources and our resilience—our capacity to cope constructively in response to challenging experiences and bounce back from the negative effects of stress. When our stress levels outweigh our ability to cope, we experience what’s known as allostatic overload. This can produce both mental and physical symptoms, including:
- Increased substance use
- Anger and irritation
- Problems sleeping
- Chronic pain
- Trouble concentrating
- Volatile emotions
- Decreased motivation
- Anxiety and worrying.
The intensity of individual, political, and social stress over the past two-plus years has taxed our resilience like never before, says Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD, Clinical Services Instructor for Newport. “We don’t have many resources left to fend off stress the way we usually do,” she says. “The volume has been intensified on everything.”
Know the Facts
87 percent of therapists have discussed politics in sessions, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
8 Ways to Cope with the Mental Health Effects of Politics
In the face of both personal and political upheaval, we can strengthen our resilience and increase our coping ability. Here are eight therapist-approved and science-backed techniques for navigating the mental health impact of politics.
Control what you can.
When we feel out of control, it can be helpful to exert what little control we do have. If you’re an activist, that might mean creating a set of concrete steps for taking action. Or you might want to get involved in local government, or volunteer for a cause you care about. For others, taking control might mean setting up a daily schedule for self-care, or a regular check-in with friends.
Activate your strengths.
Draw on your unique skills and qualities in order to navigate and reframe stress. Look backward to move forward, by recalling what’s worked well in the past when you faced intense stress, and putting those strategies into play. In one study of coping strategies during COVID, acceptance, humor, and the ability to reframe stressful situations were all associated with better mental health.
Be mindful about your media intake.
In the midst of political developments, it can be hard to stay away from news and social media. In fact, people who know more about politics and how the political system operates are somewhat less likely to experience negative mental health effects related to politics. However, constant doomscrolling can be exhausting and demoralizing. Limiting your exposure can help reduce the mental health impact of politics.
Stay in the moment.
When our nervous systems are on high alert and we’re feeling uncertain about the future, we tend to foresee the worst outcomes. Mindfulness can be a powerful intervention for shifting out of the stress response. A regular meditation practice; mindful movement, such as yoga; or simply taking a few deep breaths can help the body and brain come back into the present moment.
Use it as an opportunity to reevaluate.
Research shows that marriage, birth, and divorce rates all increase in the wake of traumatic events. That’s because major upheavals, particularly those that threaten our health and well-being, often force us to reconsider what matters most. Politics can provide a lens through which to reassess one’s values, relationships, and goals, and correct course if necessary.
Process grief and loss.
In order to move forward after a political development that has significantly affected your state of mind, it’s helpful to acknowledge and process grief. This may include connecting with others who are feeling the same way, reaching out for perspective from a mentor, and/or accessing help from a mental health professional.
During times of upheaval, whether internal or external, self-care—spending time in nature, exercising regularly, healthy eating habits, and getting enough sleep—often goes by the wayside, increasing our stress levels. Prioritizing these activities and routines can significantly support our ability to cope while building resilience.
Draw on your support network.
Research shows that our relationships and social connections are the most powerful drivers of happiness throughout our lives. So when we’re struggling with the mental health impact of politics, it’s essential to draw on these connections for strength and stability. You can support each other in finding the way through.
Treatment to Build Resilience and Healthy Coping Tools
If you find that political events are triggering symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or depression, a mental health professional can help.A trained and licensed therapist or accredited treatment program can guide you in processing the emotions you’re feeling and exploring the intersection between personal experiences and political events.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Newport Institute’s programming addresses the underlying mental health conditions that make young people more vulnerable to the mental health impact of politics and other external stressors. Our model of care for young adults is designed to build resilience and healthy coping skills for navigating our constantly changing world. Contact us to find out more.