When politics and current events cause anxiety

 

It was exactly one year ago that people visited me to talk about their 2016 presidential election anxieties.  They spoke of their fears regarding what could happen if their favoring party were to lose and how that might have a direct effect on our life.

The endless negative campaign commercials constantly instilled negative thoughts creating beliefs that terrible things would happen if he or she were to lose. Uncertainties and catastrophizing beliefs left many to experience anxiety affecting many areas of life.

Today, some people’s anxiety has lessened while others continue to experience persistent negative thoughts about current political, domestic and foreign affairs. One client expressed to me that “I had no anxiety before (2016), but now it’s terrible.” Many are still greatly affected by current political news as they remain fixated on continuous stories of escalated tension around the world, significant domestic policy changes, new developments in the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia and so forth.  As a result, today’s political climate continues to put people at a higher risk of developing anxiety.

Greg Parrish

Anxiety is an emotional state in which people experience a combination of physical, mental and behavioral reactions. When people worry about a person, place, event or situation, the brain processes and interprets the information as a threat or non-threat. Based on conditioned beliefs, the brain then sends an alert signal that there is an immediate or near future danger to our wellbeing. How a person chooses to view the situation and what our conditioned beliefs are ultimately determines whether one will experience anxiety.

Unfortunately, anxiety has a direct negative impact on our mental and physical health that interfere with our basic social, relational and cognitive functioning. Our quality of life is disrupted by various symptoms, such as a reduction in our ability to concentrate. Constant excessive worrying, restlessness and insomnia create tension in our body and more.

One way of resolving this problem is a daily practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness enables people to stay present, avoid reacting or attaching to irrational thoughts and physically feel at ease with a sense of peace in life. Some of the various strategies used include meditation, informal meditation exercises (e.g., mindfulness eating), focus on acceptance and letting go of attachments and thoughts. Deep breathing and meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system that relax the mind and body. Thus, taking care of our mind can prevent or reduce the anxiety caused by the current political events and stories that are not in our control. We have the ability to control thoughts, not what is seen or heard on TV.

Greg Parrish, a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree in social work, is a psychotherapist on Milwaukee’s east side. He joined a social workers’ delegation trip last year to Israel, facilitated by the Partnership2Gether program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel Center.