Coping with Stress During Times of Political Uncertainty
Hi everybody. It's been a very hard week and I just want to acknowledge that, wherever you are on the political spectrum the news this week has been very distressing. And so I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about how to cope with political stress.
When we talk about trauma generally, we talk about it as an emotional response to a terrible event, and it’s usually like an accident or a rape or a natural disaster. And typically, there's shock and denial that comes initially. It's a traumatic experience, but there's also vicarious trauma that comes from being a part of and witnessing political events that are extremely distressing and part of what makes it so traumatic is the sense of being out of control.
So when political events occur that people don't feel that they can change or that they can control it in any kind of concrete way, it can feel really overwhelming. And rapid political changes tend to have a more extreme sense of stress. The other aspect of this that makes it so traumatic and so stressful is the uncertainty.
And uncertainty makes us suspicious. It makes us less tolerant. Political uncertainty creates a cognitive dissonance in our brain and the brains conflict center is over-activated. So along with that, uncertainty can create a negative bias and we can fall into a kind of doom and gloom kind of perspective.
The constant state of emergency keeps people very fearful and anxious. And what this does is produce high levels of cortisol and over a long period of time, that can be damaging to our health. So, what's happening for a lot of folks, especially with the civil unrest that we witnessed this past week is a stress response.
That fight flight or freeze reaction. And when that happens for us, we lose our ability to think clearly. We're more inclined to kind of circle the wagons to protect ourselves. We tend to be less tolerant, more suspicious, more defensive, more rigid in our position. And this need for safety, overrides reason.
It's like our amygdala hijacks, our neocortex. And we are producing high levels of cortisol, as I said before, and over an extended period of time, that will damage our health. What are we going to do about it?
Cause it's a balancing act, right? My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane. So that fine line, that balance of how much of this news do I watch? And at what point is it going to make me so anxious that it's really not really healthy for me. So what to do?
Well, we say over and over and over again, mindfulness practices. And what I want to say to all of you is that that can look different for each of us. For some people it's a meditation practice. That's very formal for other people that might just be taking one minute to breathe deeply from the diaphragm.
Or it might be a progressive relaxation or a guided visual imagery, anything that will turn on your parasympathetic, parasympathetic, nervous system and calm you down. Okay, those are really, really helpful. Also set some personal boundaries around media consumption. If you're finding that you're getting really, really anxious, don't start ruminating about the news.
We don't need to vicariously traumatized ourselves by repeatedly watching the same upsetting visuals over and over again. So limit it , And my third little chip is today. Dream. I really encourage people to think about positive, inspiring visualizations. Thinking about it at a time in the future, where you are living the life you want for yourself.
Picture that life for yourself. And, give yourself a minute to really flush out the details of ever inspiring visualization of what you want your future to be. That's very therapeutic, uh and engage in some pleasurable distracting activities, whether it's gardening, knitting, art, light TV shows right now.
My personal favorite is Richardson on Netflix. It's a wonderful Jane Austin soap opera, and it totally does attracts me , and it's very pleasurable. So, whatever that is for you, I encourage you to engage in something that's pleasurable that can distract you and accentuate the positive gratitude lists are really helpful.
They pull up backed and in order to get away from that negative bias of doom and gloom, it pulls us back into a healthier perspective.
I want to also emphasize the importance of sleep. Please prioritize your sleep. What can happen if you're not sleeping is a vicious cycle where you increase your stress. It becomes more difficult. for you to kind of function without sleep. And so, then you rely on caffeine to keep you going during the day, and then that causes more anxiety and more stress, and that contributes to insomnia.
And you're kind of in a vicious circle. So, please put sleep, at the top of your list and a good average is around seven hours. Some people need more, so they believe a little less, but try to have around that mean, and. Give yourself the space and the opportunity to get a good night's sleep.
And then, last but not least. And my tips is, really identify and come back negative filtering and catastrophizing. Just take a step back and examine how accurate is this thinking and recognize that when we're catastrophizing, we're jumping to the very worst-case scenario and more often than not, it's not going to be as bad as we think it's going to be.
So, I think pertains to what's happening right now in our nation. So, one of my personal favorite mantras that has helped me through this time is this too shall pass just like the clouds passing across the sky. Right. Everything changes the good and the bad and this too shall pass.