October 9, 2019

Stressed out about politics? Here are 4 ways to de-stress.

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Nov. 5, 2020.

    Politics is a cause of stress for many Americans, according to a recent study published in PLOS One, but there's a way to care about politics without letting it stress you out, Rhitu Chatterjee reports for NPR's "Shots."

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    Politics is stressing us out, research finds

    For the study, researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 800 people online about the role of politics in their lives.

    Politics was a cause of stress for nearly 40% of respondents, and about 20% said politics caused them to lose sleep, feel fatigued, or be depressed.

    Meanwhile, 10% to 30% of the respondents said politics took an emotional toll on them and caused anger, frustration, hate, or guilt or led them say things they regretted later on.

    About 20% said politics had damaged their friendships, and 16% said it made their home life less pleasant, the researchers found.

    Kevin Smith, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and author of the study, said he wasn't surprised people were stressed about politics, but "what I felt was kind of eye-popping was simply the sheer numbers of people saying that they experienced this."

    Smith added that it seems Americans "are suffering some pretty negative consequences because of their attention to and engagement in politics."

    Lynn Bufka, a psychologist and the associate executive director of practice, research, and policy at the American Psychological Association (APA), said the findings of the PLOS One study "are consistent with what we've been seeing with our Stress in America survey."

    APA in 2017 found that 57% of respondents to their survey said they were stressed about the political climate at the time, while 63% said they were stressed about the future of the nation. Meanwhile, over half of the respondents said they like to stay informed about news and politics but that doing so stressed them out.

    How to care about politics without being stressed

    It appears political engagement comes at an emotional cost, Bufka said, which could affect politics as a whole. "In a democracy, it's really important that people want to be engaged," Bufka said. "It would be really discouraging if people felt [so] stressed and negatively impacted by the political discourse of the day that ... they disengage from politics."

    With that in mind, she offers four tips to keep stress at bay while staying engaged in politics.

    1. Determine if the discussion is worth it. "Going into any kind of situation expecting to win or to convince somebody of your point of view is unlikely to result in a nonstressful approach," Bufka said. If the conversation may be too "emotionally laden," it may not be worth it.
    2. Get sleep and eat well. Getting enough sleep and eating healthy can help your body be more resilient to all kinds of stress, Bufka said.
    3. Reduce your exposure to stressors. Bufka recommends taking a break from the news or "choosing to only watch the news, read news, engage in discussions about news up until a certain point in the evening."
    4. Take time to unwind. Make sure you do things that help you de-stress, Bufka said, "whether it's taking a walk in the woods, or spending time with friends playing a card game, or just enjoying one another's company." Doing these things can help act as a buffer against any kind of stress, Bufka said (Chatterjee, "Shots," NPR, 9/25).
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