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The Mental Health Impact of Politics: 8 Ways to Cope

Fear. Hopelessness. Anger. Hatred. Exhaustion. Political events at home and abroad, like the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade or the war in Ukraine, can catalyze a wide range of emotions and reactions. And with social media and streaming platforms bringing us nonstop coverage of these events as they unfold, the mental health impact of politics is exponentially multiplied.

A full 40 percent of Americans identify politics as a significant source of stress in their lives, and about 5 percent have actually considered suicide in response to political developments. Research shows that young adults are among those most affected by political upheaval, particularly young people who experience higher levels of anxiety and distress in general.

The Impact of Politics on Well-Being

Political strife can affect individual well-being in a variety of ways. It can damage relationships, disrupt self-care, and even lead to physical symptoms. A survey of more than 800 Americans found the following statistics on how politics impacted their state of mind and physical health:

  • More than 25 percent felt depressed when their candidate lost an election.
  • 1 in 5 had lost sleep over politics.
  • 20 percent reported feeling fatigued because of political news.
  • 29 percent reported losing their temper over politics.
  • One quarter said they felt hateful toward those with opposing political views.
  • More than 20 percent have had political disagreements damage their friendships.

Moreover, about a third of respondents reported that political unrest triggered compulsive behaviors. Specifically, they found it difficult to stop consuming political information or stop thinking about politics.

“Politics is a chronic stressor, something that people see as consistently taking a toll on their social, emotional and even physical health across the long term.”
Researcher Kevin Smith
Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

How the Stress of Political Upheaval Erodes Resilience

Chronic stress, regardless of the source, taxes our resources and our resilience—our capacity to cope constructively in response to challenging experiences and bounce back from the negative effects of stress. When our stress levels outweigh our ability to cope, we experience what’s known as allostatic overload. This can produce both mental and physical symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Apathy
  • Languishing
  • Increased substance use
  • Anger and irritation
  • Problems sleeping
  • Chronic pain
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Volatile emotions
  • Decreased motivation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and worrying.

The intensity of individual, political, and social stress over the past two-plus years has taxed our resilience like never before, says Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD, Clinical Services Instructor for Newport. “We don’t have many resources left to fend off stress the way we usually do,” she says. “The volume has been intensified on everything.”

Know the Facts

87 percent of therapists have discussed politics in sessions, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

8 Ways to Cope with the Mental Health Effects of Politics

In the face of both personal and political upheaval, we can strengthen our resilience and increase our coping ability. Here are eight therapist-approved and science-backed techniques for navigating the mental health impact of politics.

Control what you can.

When we feel out of control, it can be helpful to exert what little control we do have. If you’re an activist, that might mean creating a set of concrete steps for taking action. Or you might want to get involved in local government, or volunteer for a cause you care about. For others, taking control might mean setting up a daily schedule for self-care, or a regular check-in with friends.

Activate your strengths.

Draw on your unique skills and qualities in order to navigate and reframe stress. Look backward to move forward, by recalling what’s worked well in the past when you faced intense stress, and putting those strategies into play. In one study of coping strategies during COVID, acceptance, humor, and the ability to reframe stressful situations were all associated with better mental health.

Be mindful about your media intake.

In the midst of political developments, it can be hard to stay away from news and social media. In fact, people who know more about politics and how the political system operates are somewhat less likely to experience negative mental health effects related to politics. However, constant doomscrolling can be exhausting and demoralizing. Limiting your exposure can help reduce the mental health impact of politics.

Stay in the moment.

When our nervous systems are on high alert and we’re feeling uncertain about the future, we tend to foresee the worst outcomes. Mindfulness can be a powerful intervention for shifting out of the stress response. A regular meditation practice; mindful movement, such as yoga; or simply taking a few deep breaths can help the body and brain come back into the present moment.

Use it as an opportunity to reevaluate.

Research shows that marriage, birth, and divorce rates all increase in the wake of traumatic events. That’s because major upheavals, particularly those that threaten our health and well-being, often force us to reconsider what matters most. Politics can provide a lens through which to reassess one’s values, relationships, and goals, and correct course if necessary.

Process grief and loss.

In order to move forward after a political development that has significantly affected your state of mind, it’s helpful to acknowledge and process grief. This may include connecting with others who are feeling the same way, reaching out for perspective from a mentor, and/or accessing help from a mental health professional.

Prioritize self-care.

During times of upheaval, whether internal or external, self-care—spending time in nature, exercising regularly, healthy eating habits, and getting enough sleep—often goes by the wayside, increasing our stress levels. Prioritizing these activities and routines can significantly support our ability to cope while building resilience.

Draw on your support network.

Research shows that our relationships and social connections are the most powerful drivers of happiness throughout our lives. So when we’re struggling with the mental health impact of politics, it’s essential to draw on these connections for strength and stability. You can support each other in finding the way through.

Treatment to Build Resilience and Healthy Coping Tools

If you find that political events are triggering symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or depression, a mental health professional can help.A trained and licensed therapist or accredited treatment program can guide you in processing the emotions you’re feeling and exploring the intersection between personal experiences and political events.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Source: Newport Institute


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Depression Beating Exercises | Justin Boggs

These exercises may do a better job treating depression than medicine

An analysis published Wednesday in medical journal The BMJ indicates that several types of exercise were “superior” to antidepressants for treating depression.

The study included 218 randomized controlled trials with 14,170 participants from multiple countries.

According to study lead author Juan Ángel Bellón of the University of Malaga in Spain, walking or jogging, yoga, and strength training appeared to be more effective than other types of exercises.

The study noted that increasing the intensity helped make exercising more effective at treating depression, but even low-intensity exercise had benefits.

“Primary care clinicians can now recommend exercise, psychotherapy, or antidepressants as standalone alternatives for adults with mild or moderate depression,” Bellón wrote. “The final choice depends on patient preference and other considerations, including any barriers to access. Clinicians and patients should also take into account the benefits of exercise in preventing or treating chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive impairment.”

Bellón said that while exercise was more effective than antidepressants, the combination of medicine and exercise makes treatment even more effective.

The new research adds to previous research that indicates exercise might do a better job at treating depression than antidepressants.

According to findings published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2023, running is just as effective as antidepressants. Professor Brenda Penninx presented her studies to the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

About 44% of people who participated in running activities showed improvement with depression and anxiety.

Penninx said in a release that the antidepressants still work, but running and exercise could be a viable alternative.

“Both interventions helped with the depression to around the same extent,” Penninx said. “Antidepressants generally had worse impact on body weight, heart rate variability, and blood pressure, whereas running therapy led to improved effect[s] on general fitness and heart rate, for instance.

Bellón noted there might be obstacles impeding people from using exercise to treat depression.

“Many people have no access to exercise facilities, or they live in neighborhoods where it is unsafe to walk or jog,” he said. “Health services and local and national administrations should provide enough resources to make individualized and supervised exercise programs accessible to the entire population.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that just 24.2% of U.S. adults meet guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

The CDC advises adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, physical activity a week in addition to two days of strength training.


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Bold Journey | Bridgette Hilton

In 2020, I went through the roughest patch of my life. I’ll save that story for another day, but I wanted to share what helped get me out of that dark place.

In the depths of my depression, the last thing I was thinking about was how these events would change my life in a positive way. When you’re going through a terrible time, the most annoying thing in the entire world is when people tell you, “You’ll be okay! Just be happy! Time heals all wounds!” Not helpful.

You know what is helpful? Doing things—i.e., having experiences.

That’s what finally pulled me out of the abyss. I had fallen to a point that was so low, I was genuinely afraid of what might become of me. That’s when I decided there was nothing to lose—if I was ever going to be happy again, I had to do something different.

I started small. Every time I wanted to climb back into bed, I chose a healthier activity instead. I walked through parks. I read. I rode my bike. I cooked. Even basic things like taking a bath and cleaning my place helped. None of these things were revolutionary, but they interrupted my established pattern of sitting around passively and wallowing in my pain.

That interruption is powerful because behavior feeds emotions. It’s all a big cycle, where emotions influence thoughts, thoughts influence behavior, behavior influences the experiences you have, and your experiences influence your emotions. This cycle is often self-reinforcing. Research shows that about 90 percent of our 60,000 daily thoughts are recycled. We fall into patterns, and those patterns can keep our biology, neurocircuitry, neurochemistry, neurohormones, and even genetic expression stuck in a bad place.

These little experiences started to nudge my emotions in a new direction, and the difference became obvious when I started doing them consistently. One new daily routine drastically changed my mood: doing a simple gratitude practice while watching the sun rise and set each day. It forced me to get up, take my dog outside, and bookend my days by thinking about the positive aspects remaining in my life. It also helped regulate my sleep, which made me feel physically healthier and more energetic. This practice became my favorite part of my day, and I still do it.

It was important that these experiences were small because I didn’t have the drive for anything more. But when I took a walk instead of lying down and diving into a downward spiral of depressing thoughts, I felt a little better—at least I could pat myself on the back for getting out of the house. Bit by bit, I started to rebuild the energy and desire for bigger things.

The pain was inevitable, but suffering was optional. As I refocused my mind away from the suffering, novel experiences became more powerful. I tried adrenaline-filled activities like spearfishing and rollerblading down the boardwalk, as well as calming ones like painting, writing poetry, and roasting my own coffee beans. I recreated dishes from places I had visited, working my way from easier ones (like the egg sandwich from Lawson’s convenience store in Tokyo and the chai tea from Dishoom in London) to harder ones (bean-to-bar chocolate and home-cured charcuterie).

As pandemic restrictions started to loosen a little, I was overjoyed to find my pod of friends interested in doing all sorts of new activities—tie-dying clothes, teaching ourselves to roll sushi, hosting Connect Four tournaments, fermenting and labeling our own hot sauce and pickles, and sneaking out to Venice Beach at midnight to swim in the bioluminescent waves. As bad as the pandemic was in many ways, seeing others try new things with people they love was a bright spot, a small glimpse of what life should be like.

These experiences gave me natural bursts of serotonin and dopamine—feel-good hormones—that jolted me out of my depression temporarily. The novelty forced me to pay close attention to the task at hand, leaving little room to dwell on the past or worry about the future. And when I succeeded at something new, it helped build my confidence and courage.

My personal experience aligns perfectly with scientific research. The evidence states that simply being more present by doing something new stimulates and activates regions of our brain that improve our mood. So, the next time you’re feeling life close in on you, put down the remote and try something you’ve never done before. It’s not as easy, but it works.

The Science Behind Having Novel Experiences & the Correlation of Increased Mental Health

Neuroplasticity: Novel experiences stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity, which is its ability to adapt and rewire itself. This can lead to increased cognitive flexibility and improved mood regulation. It can help break the cycle of negative thought patterns often associated with depression.

Increased Dopamine: Novel experiences can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can create a sense of enjoyment and motivation, which is often lacking in individuals with depression.
Reduced Ruminative Thinking: People with depression tend to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings. Engaging in new experiences can redirect their focus away from rumination, providing temporary relief from distressing thoughts.

Boosted Confidence: Successfully navigating new experiences can boost self-esteem and confidence. Achieving a new skill, trying something out of one’s comfort zone, or simply having a positive experience can enhance self-worth and self-efficacy.
Sense of Achievement: New experiences can provide a sense of accomplishment. This can be particularly important for individuals with depression who may struggle with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Increased Social Interaction: Many new experiences involve interacting with others, whether through group activities, classes, or simply sharing an experience with friends. Social interaction is beneficial for mental well-being, as it can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness often associated with depression.

Distraction from Negative Emotions: Engaging in new activities can serve as a healthy distraction from the overwhelming negative emotions that come with depression. It offers a break from the emotional turmoil and can provide moments of respite.

Mindfulness and Presence: Experiencing something new often requires being present in the moment. This mindfulness can help individuals let go of past regrets or future worries and focus on the here and now, which is a key element of many therapeutic approaches for depression.

Stress Reduction: Novel experiences can be a form of stress relief. They can provide an opportunity to relax and recharge, reducing the physical and emotional strain often experienced by those with depression.
Sense of Purpose: New experiences can instill a sense of purpose and meaning in life. They can be a reminder of the richness and diversity of life, motivating individuals to overcome depression and discover new sources of joy.


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Getting Real About Depression | Louie Giglio

If a church member wants to talk to Passion City Church pastor Louie Giglio about anxiety or depression, Giglio isn’t just a sympathetic listener. He speaks from experience.

The author and founder of the Passion Movement, which brings together young adults looking to grow and strengthen their faith, went through a debilitating struggle that began several years ago.

“I literally woke up in a panic thinking I was going to die at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Giglio tells Guideposts.org. That moment sent him on a months-long downward spiral into depression, fear, and darkness.

“Spiritually I was out of whack,” Giglio recalls. “Mentally, for sure, I probably had something close to a nervous breakdown. I didn’t leave the house most days for a long, long time. I had to seek medical help. I sought spiritual help. I cried out to God. It was a very, very dark season of life.”

Giglio’s been open about his mental health journey, most recently in his book, The Comeback, but in his new book, Goliath Must Fall, the pastor sought to use his own struggles to help others and bust some misconceptions about anxiety and depression in the church.

“I keep wanting to unpack that because so many people are struggling with it,” he explains. “I’m a pastor and there are people in our church here and in others that I run into almost every day who are frozen with anxiety. I’m talking about middle school kids and nine year olds and business professionals and CEOs and moms. It’s not just one slice of life.”

For Giglio, learning to manage his anxiety is still an ongoing lesson in faith, trust, and acceptance.

“You have to start over again and I needed to start all over again, my brain needed to start all over again, my nervous system had to reboot again and all that took time,” Giglio says. “Almost six months time, but when you go through something like that it marks you. I don’t struggle every day with anxiety, but I am marked by what I went through and it’s still relevant to me every single day.

His new book doesn’t offer a quick fix.

“I’m not telling people , ‘Just do this simple little spiritual formula and poof, you’re going to forget about all your troubles.’ If you’ve been through the fire of divorce or the fire of addiction or the fire of anger or the fire of great loss or abuse, you’re going to be marked by that, but what I’m trying to encourage people in is that doesn’t have to define you and it doesn’t have to define your outlook on life.”

Goliath Must Fall  takes lessons from one of the most well-known stories in the Bible and applies them to every-day life, but first, he re-teaches the story of David and Goliath.

“The problem is that most of us know that in and of our own strength, we can’t defeat these giants that are in our lives,” Giglio says. “Ask anyone who’s struggled with rejection or struggled with anger or struggled with fear, anxiety, or depression. A lot of people have been around the block dozens of times trying to makes changes, but yet the giant is still there. The beauty in the book is that we’re not David in the story of David and Goliath. From our perspective, Jesus is the giant slayer in the story. Jesus is David in the story of David and Goliath and He takes down the giants on our behalf and so we just learn to walk in what He’s already done for us.”

To really face your giants, Giglio says you have to dig deep into what’s causing you pain, fear, or anxiety.

“Anxiety isn’t a thing. It’s the symptom of a thing and so we have to go a little deeper and ask a question, ‘What is making me anxious?’” he explains. “I gave too much credit just to anxiety. What was happening was something or someone was making me anxious and so I try to help and encourage people to go one step further, to go beneath the surface to ask, ‘What is it that I’m afraid of? Who is it that I’m afraid of? What was said that I wish I could now mange the way it was said?’ I was trying to manage every outcome and I was trying to watch over my shoulder all the time.”

“One of the giants we talked about in the book is the giant of comfort and I think for a normal person floating through life, they’re like, ‘Comfort’s a good thing. I’m trying to make my life as comfortable as I can,’ but for believers who think that there’s something greater than this present life, comfort isn’t always the best thing,” Giglio explains. “We’re looking to make our lives count. We’re looking to make a difference in the world. We’re looking to serve and help people and no one who’s ever done that in the world has had a comfortable life.”


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