Does one or more of these people make you really, really upset? Here’s how to find your chill. (Getty)
Do you find yourself ready to throw your phone at something when you read the news lately? Find yourself yelling out loud at political debates or a Facebook post? Have you woken up in the middle of the night with the perfect comeback for the argument on immigration you had last week? With presidential elections 11 months away, things will only get worse before they get better.
“Election seasons, which seem to start earlier and earlier and last longer and longer, can lead to chronic stress for a lot of people,” J. Ryan Fuller, a cognitive behavioral psychologist with a private practice in New York City, told Yahoo Health. “When stress is chronic, the sympathetic nervous system is firing like crazy, as if there is a threat, and it’s sort of tapping itself out.”
Your cardiovascular system and your immune system get overworked, as your body behaves as if it’s under threat. White blood cell counts can even be affected, making you more prone to infections, Fuller warns.
Before Congress has to form a committee to save you from your politically active brain, you can take matters into your own hands … quite easily, in fact.
Turn off the Wi-Fi, the TV, the radio, for just a moment. Long enough to take some deep breaths. Yoga breathing exercises were recently shown to lower anxiety by 44 percent in patients with generalized anxiety disorder. You can start with something called “paced respiration," in which you inhale to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight.
"That decreases the sympathetic nervous system activity, and turns on the parasympathetic nervous system,” Fuller says. In other words, it’s signaling to your body that you don’t need to be in “fight or flight” mode right now.
2. Go outside and play
Get away from the news and engage in some kind of physical activity. “It doesn’t have to be strenuous, like CrossFit; it could just be going for a walk,” Fuller says. Just as long as that walk doesn’t take you by your neighbor’s campaign signs.
3. Exercise stimulus control — aka limit your news time!
You don’t have to turn the news off altogether forever, but maybe try not to watch it all day long, when the same infuriating stories are replayed over and over.
“You want to make sure people are staying up to date … but there’s no reason to have their nervous system lit up four times a day for the same news story,” Fuller says.
Related: 6 Ways To Hack Your Stress
4. Exercise cognitive control
In cognitive therapy, Fuller asks his patients to evaluate their response to the news, or to personal arguments, by asking themselves these questions: What am I really upset about? What is the worst-case likely scenario here? How bad is this really in the context of all the things terrible in the world? What part of this do I have control over?
In clinical experiments, he found that people’s sympathetic nervous systems were more active when they reacted to an offensive statement by saying, “This person shouldn’t be saying this,” than if they instead said, “I wish this person weren’t saying this, but he or she is entitled to hold a different opinion than I do.” Try that next time your political nemesis of choice says something outrageous.
Face it, your personal impact on global politics is probably minimal, but you could make your community better. And volunteering regularly makes you less likely to develop hypertension.
Read or watch some satire about the issue that gets you riled up. Laughter actually reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in your system and increases the dopamine in your brain.
Related: 10 Surprising Stress Busters
7. Plan your debates wisely
Before you argue with friends and family at the dinner table or on Facebook, ask what you hope to gain from the conversation. “Is this going to be a constructive conversation, or two diatribes that just raise our blood pressures and possibly make dessert awkward?” Fuller prompts. If you’re stressed, you need friends and family on your side, so don’t make enemies of them.
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