Save Your Sanity This Election Season

If your friendships are fracturing because of politics — try this

There’s not a lot of beating around the bush these days. People are increasingly forthcoming about their political views.

If you’re among those experiencing considerable mental stress and strained relationships this election season, you may want to pull back, self-preserve, go for a run — or swear off political talk. You could also go on a social media diet — at least for now.

“I’ve never seen this level of stress and anxiety over an impending election in my 26 years [of practice],” said one psychologist.

Seven therapists described how patients complained about difficulty sleeping and heart palpitations because of election stress in a recent survey from Reuters. One therapist even compared stress levels to those just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I’ve never seen this level of stress and anxiety over an impending election in my 26 years [of practice],” Nancy Molitor, a psychologist near Chicago, Illinois, told Reuters. Others recount friendship-ending email exchanges.

Protecting your sanity this election cycle may prove harder than in other years. People on both sides of the aisle scuffle over ideological divisions and alienate friends and family members with differing opinions.

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Callie Appelstein, a freelance editor in St. Louis, Missouri, said that initially, during the primaries, Donald Trump was her 17th choice for Republican candidate. But she has now carefully considered his stances and positions and has made peace with her decision to vote for him. Appelstein doesn’t fit the caricature the mainstream media presents of Trump supporters. She is Jewish by heritage, received her master’s degree in library science, and has raised two poised, intelligent daughters. Her decision to vote for Trump, however, has strained some friendships — even though it was a carefully calibrated and educated decision.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Managing Election Anxiety” source=””]Take a time out.|Limit alcohol and caffeine.|Get enough sleep.|Exercise daily.|Take deep breaths.|Accept that you cannot control everything.|Welcome humor.[/lz_bulleted_list]

Every time she got on Facebook, she left feeling defensive and hurt because people made assumptions about Trump supporters as racist, bigoted, homophobic individuals. “I know I’m not those things,” she said.

“I have taken a sabbatical from social media at least until the election is over,” Appelstein told LifeZette.

However, one of her acquaintances still unfriended her on Facebook after they had a civil conversation about their opposing political views. So for now, Appelstein has reached an unspoken agreement among family members and friends that they’re just not going to discuss their differences this time around.

“People do not realize that their own political beliefs, like the beliefs of others, have a foundation in a lifetime of emotions and corresponding emotional memories that have become linked to an ideology,” explained Dr. Mary Lamia, a psychologist at University of California, Berkeley.

“Similarly, should we disparage someone’s desire for a certain food when we find it distasteful? Our experiences, culture, and all of the emotions we have experienced that become part of our personal warehouse of emotional memories, when connected to our thoughts and our imagination, determine our political beliefs,” she said.

Set up guidelines and structure for a conversation, such as agreeing not to interrupt each other and setting time limits for speaking.

Jessica Garrett is a trained mediator for college students living in Kaysville, Utah. She said people on both sides of any argument typically need to feel some type of closure. But in political disagreements, people tend to react with high emotions and withdraw or become aggressive. “When that happens, the communicative cycle breaks,” Garrett noted.

Anger isn’t a bad thing, Garrett explained. When you can, use it as a cue to step back. She recommends that people in difficult conversations take a pause and agree on a different time to continue their conversation. Then set up guidelines for a conversation, such as agreeing not to interrupt each other and setting time limits for speaking so that everyone gets a turn.

It may all seem a bit “corny,” but these structures can help people remember their relationships are more important than their politics.

Try not to assign malignant motives to actions and decisions either, said Garrett. “In terms of political things, there’s a lot of guessing about the future — that if a certain person gets elected, all these things will happen. There’s a lot of guessing and storytelling that help us justify our anger and our choices.” But once accusations, sarcasm, and meanness enter the conversation, it’s time to take a step back.

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While mediation tactics could help to save your sanity in some instances, it may not be possible to stay completely socially engaged this political season and not get a little burned. “Because this election is so nasty,” Appelstein said, “I’ve just made the decision not to have those conversations. My family relationships matter to me too much.”

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