How Today’s Politics are Hurting Your Mental Health

January 6, 2021 — a day that will live on in infamy:

I’m writing this article on January 7, 2021. Yesterday, I was riveted to the TV set, witnessing the insurrection and its aftermath at the US Capitol. It was deeply troubling to watch.

It got me thinking about the recent article I wrote on how the politics of division are driving people crazy and in light of yesterday’s events, I thought I’d add an update about how politics in general are having a negative impact on our overall mental health.

Politics can make us anxious, angry and depressed:

When we talk about mental health, there are three common ways that people can be adversely affected: we can become anxious, angry or depressed. Sadly, politics can affect us in all three ways.

I have to start by addressing yesterday’s incidents at the Capitol. The storming of the building by an angry, extremist mob; the invasion of the chambers where elected officials were trying to do their jobs — noted afterward by many Senators as a “defilement” of their “sacred space” — that was enough to terrify even the most stoic of us.

It was horrifying to see the scenes of chaos unfolding in the Capitol and on the surrounding streets. Even though I’m a Canadian, the US is our most important ally and trading partner, and the implications of these events weren’t lost on me or on my fellow Canadians.

This type of event, in which a seated president incites a group of extremist, fed by his unending lies, to storm the Capitol building, wreaking havoc on democracy– well, it’s enormously anxiety-provoking.

People become stressed when things are unstable:

People crave stability and order. We feel most comfortable when the rules are followed. Chaos is frightening. We feel overwhelmed and out of control. Events like yesterday’s insurrection are deeply disturbing. I imagine that Americans everywhere awoke this morning feeling several degrees more anxious than they did the day before.

People worry that after this insurrection has taken place, there might be other events like it. Already, there was a botched attempt by domestic terrorists to kidnap the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, three months ago. We wonder, “What’s next?” as this political chaos stirs up our deepest, darkest fears.

Here in Canada, politicians across the spectrum have enraged regular citizens when stories of their holiday travels came to light. People were infuriated to learn that more than 20 elected officials and aides vacationed in Hawaii, Mexico, California and St. Bart’s, when ordinary citizens were obediently observing the public health guidelines.

Over-entitled, hypocritical politicians make us furious:

It’s the narcissistic entitlement of these politicians that caused most Canadians to be so outraged. While the rest of us were tolerating a lonely holiday season at home, deprived of the company of friends and family, these self-centered individuals saw themselves as above the rules. Plus, the hypocrisy really got to us. We had no tolerance for “Do as I say, not as I do,” especially when one of the culprits happened to be a member of Ontario’s Covid-19 science advisory board.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney initially wasn’t going to sanction any of his politicians, but the public outrage was so great that he changed his mind and asked for the resignation of some politicians, with others receiving a demotion.

Hostile political discourse creates alienation and depression in the population:

Both in Canada and the United States, the discourse among politicians has dropped to an all-time low. People are unbelievably rude and hostile to one-another in chambers with crude insults hurled as a matter of course. Last night, as I watched the US confirmation speeches, I noted how many Senators were asking for the temperature to be lowered and the discourse to become more civil.

For those of us who’ve observed these brutal exchanges between our elected officials, it feels like a child watching Mommy and Daddy abusing one-other. These are our leaders — our parent-figures, in a sense — and seeing them treat each-other with such contempt makes us feel overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, and alienated: it makes us depressed.

I do hope that politicians north and south of the border will heed the call for a more civil discourse, but I’m not sure if it will happen, at least not yet. The divisions are so deep between the right and the left. In the US, left-leaning Democrats are facing off against their centrist colleagues, and far-right Republicans are engaged in a war of words with the more moderate representatives.

In Canada, the insults being hurled at politicians on the floor of the senate or in the House of Commons are more akin to what one would hear in a seedy dive, not in the exalted halls of the legislature, and yet, to date, nothing has been done to stop this awfulness. Citizens of Canada and the US watch in horror, wanting to pull the duvet covers over our collective heads. It’s all too much to bear.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed many of us to the edge. The pandemic alone is severely compromising our mental well-being. The last thing we need is more ugly politics to add to the sorry mix. Unfortunately, with recent events, we’re hit with a double-whammy.

We get sad, mad and scared when we feel powerless:

Anxiety, anger and depression often are linked to a sense of disempowerment, so it’s important to take action whenever we can. The voices raised in anger resulted in the firing and demotion of several politicians across Canada. Voices raised in protest elected two democratic Senators in Georgia yesterday. Peoples’ voices were heard loud and clear when they voted in record numbers in November 2020 to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the new president and vice president of the US.

If we take action — appropriately and legally — as opposed to the treacherous, treasonous behavior of the rioters yesterday in the US Capitol, we can make profound changes in the political system, and just as importantly, we can go a long way toward protecting and nurturing our mental well-being.

So what can you do?

Here is my list of five things that will help your mental health when living through charged political times:

  1. Minimize the time you spend watching or listening to the news, and shift your attention to positive activities.
  2. Take care of your mental well-being through meditation, creative pursuits, and spending time in nature.
  3. Talk to a loved one or to a professional when you’re feeling overwhelmed or so upset that you can’t get past it.
  4. Practice healthy skepticism and only believe what is factual and well-researched.
  5. Speak out when you’re upset or frustrated, through blogging or social activism, and vote when your vote needs to be counted.

If you take care of your mental well-being, you’ll be able to make it through these turbulent times feeling stronger, wiser and more empowered.

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Sign up for my free biweekly wellness newsletter here for my series on Moving into Winter with Good Self-Care, where you’ll learn simple tips for taking the best care of yourself and your loved ones this winter season.

And tune in to my ongoing YouTube video series on Coping With Covid.

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