Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 55 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take your questions on life's struggles and get them answered on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
Well, this had to happen eventually, people. Listen to me carefully. Today, I’ll be answering a question sent in about politics. It’s a heartfelt question, and I will answer it in a way that has nothing to with my political leanings.
My answer will not be rooted in which side to root for, who to like or who to hate. As always, I’ll look to help the person who sent this question in based on what is troubling them — which in this case, is massive anxiety surrounding the election. Many people share this political anxiety regardless of which side they’re on, and therefore, I hope anyone feeling anxious about politics can take something from this, and I encourage everyone to stick with the entire episode whether or not you agree with her political opinions. Okay?
Good. Let’s pull up our pants, act like adults and take a crack at this thing…
QUESTION: “I’m surprised that I’m the only one who’s asked a question about this so far on your show. I’m extremely, EXTREMELY anxious about current politics. I spend more time each day engulfed in anxiety about #45 being elected to a second term. What can I do? What can any of us do? I worry that this “man” is single-handedly destroying our country, and this is all I can think about. Do you have a suggestion for how to cope with these feelings? I feel like my freedom has been taken from me.”
Clear Your Mind When It Comes to Politics
Today, I am not going to give you any general tips and tricks for calming anxiety. You know all about meditation and breathing and all that stuff to calm yourself down and if you don’t, you can read it anywhere. So that’s not what I’m going to focus on here today.
Now, having said that, a general theme when it comes to calming anxiety is doing one thing or another to empty your mind. I am going to harp on that one a little bit: because my first piece of advice to you is to empty your mind of anything you think you know about politics or how this country should be run.
Again, this is for your health and for the sake of pursuing truth. This has nothing to do with whether I do or don’t agree with your political leanings.
For any innocent bystander out there who is stressed out about the political climate and worries about why so many people just can’t seem to get it right, stop. My advice is to stop.
Where you and the vast majority of people are going wrong is that you are trying to bear the unbearable weight of thinking you know the answers.
Managing Political Anxiety
You have to understand that there is a never-ending network of information out there that is manufactured by any number of parties to encourage you to believe different things at different times. Don’t believe me? Go watch House of Cards.
You're not alone in how you feel. A study conducted last year cited high levels of political anxiety in the U.S., with guilt, frustration, and remorse from political differences leading to damaged relationships across all areas in life. Children and teens worry about political issues, too.
There are countless variables behind each policy that we cannot understand which lead them to be beneficial or non-beneficial. And of course, there are countless factors that go into what makes people who they are; what they believe in, what they’ve been exposed to, how they see themselves and what’s best for them. The amount of information anyone would need to know what’s best for our country is never ending. I repeat: never ending.
And if you did have that answer and knew what was best, you’d also know that there would still be sacrifices. You could only know what’s best overall; there’s no such thing as best for everyone. Some one, some place, someTHING would not get their way.
If you’re stressed out about politics on either side, you have to succumb to this. You have to release this weight of thinking you know what’s best.
I doubt there’s a single person on the planet who has the magical answer as to what is generally the best political approach, let alone something that pleases everyone. Politics are emotional. As humans, we want to rationalize our emotions and escape the lack of control that inevitably comes with these strong emotions. So we start to calm ourselves down by insisting WE at least know what’s right.
We don’t. We just don’t.
The Other Side
But once you’ve grasped that truth, the itch still remains, doesn’t it? There's that lack of comfortability. Pure acceptance is too difficult.
We still want to take action and somehow show the world our political values, even if we’ve acknowledged they might not be exactly spot on.
If you’re wondering what to do next, what to do with that restless energy; instead of reinforcing your current beliefs (which hasn’t helped any of us so far), go learn about the other side as best you can. Dare to engage with those who like #45, as you so lovingly refer to him, and learn about why they believe in him and his policies. Go learn about people who like other candidates from other parties, too. I’ve heard Libertarians are nice. Go talk to some Libertarians. Engage in conversations like this with the desire to learn and sympathize, not with the desire to judge.
Maybe you’ll end up getting judged and screamed at. Big deal. If you think that person’s behavior reflects the entire party, you’re only generalizing the same way you probably feel they are. Hear their stories.
You don’t have to agree with them, not at all. But if you really want to reflect a positive change in the world, if you really want the world to open its collective mind to your beliefs and values, you have to do the same. Setting an example like this is the only realistic way to spark change that you want to see.
Maybe you’re already doing this, but the frustration comes in still not seeing changes. All I can say to that is get comfortable. You’re doing what you need to do.
How to Cope with Political Anxiety
Taking that action gives you the best feeling you’ll get of being in the driver’s seat and feeling as though you’re making a positive difference — which you are. But you’re kidding yourself if you think those changes are going to happen fast.
For any single person that’s regarded as changing the course of history for better or worse, from Martin Luther King to Adolf Hitler, they had a lot of other moving pieces and the results of their actions did not occur overnight. Big change takes time, whether it’s a big personal change or a big societal change. Trying to force this change or expect it to happen quickly through your well-intentioned actions is yet again trying to bear a weight that is simply unbearable.
Beyond this, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also recommend taking out some of this energy on becoming more involved in your party of preference. Yes, there’s a lot for anyone who’s interested in politics to learn, and learning means being receptive to the opinions of others. But that’s also not to say that you shouldn’t involve yourself if you’re passionate about your viewpoint.
Volunteer to help a campaign or maybe run for local office yourself. In doing so, you’ll only be put in a position to learn more and be that much more informed in addition to using your political anxiety to contribute rather than letting it eat away at you.
And on a more personal level, practice proven stress relief methods like eating healthily, sleeping well, and spending time with friends and family without getting into heated political discussions.
Lynn Bufka, the associate executive director for practice, research and policy at the American Psychological Association, says that it's all right to take a break from the news and social media. You need to give your mind space to be away from a situation where information is coming in at all times.
As long as you conduct yourself with open-mindedness, and are realistic about how vilifying your opposition only causes a further divide (between two people that want the same thing but believe different courses of action are required to get it), the impression this political climate leaves on your life will be as good as you can hope for it to be.
I’m not sure there’s much more to say.
Obviously, the political climate is a highly sensitive subject that’s causing a lot of people a lot of pain right now. It’s easy to want to step into extreme measures and go save the world from all the people you think are idiots out there, but when there are so many variables surrounding incredibly important issues, it’s especially important to remain level-headed and to act with composure and logic rather than piss and vinegar.
To the woman who sent this in, ma’am I genuinely hope my response was helpful to you. I’m sure you’ll hear many answers from other people that contrast what I said, but I appreciate you trusting me with this and this is just my two cents.
To everyone else, if you have a question you’d like answered on the show, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ll do what we can to help you out. We’ll even send you a free book from our collection if you’d like one.
Good luck out there, everyone. I promise you we’ll all get through this madness. I’ll talk to you again next time.