It’s good to know what’s happening in the world around you, and it’s important to be informed about politics, especially during an election year.
It can also be pretty awful. The American election cycle is always long, but the 2016 cycle has seemed to go on for an eternity—and the actual election is still a month away. It’s only fair if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by it. We could be steeped in political news 24/7 if we wanted to be, so it’s hard to make the conscious decision to slow down the information onslaught and filter out some of the noise. When an election season has been as contentious as this one—how many months left before the vote?—it can feel irresponsible to not stay on top of every development. But overloading yourself with information means you’re not truly present and engaged with any of it. And letting things get to the point where you want to shut everything off means you might end up missing something truly valuable simply because you were previously afraid to miss anything at all. Here are five tips for managing the stress of election season and keeping yourself calm and centered while the political world around you is going crazy.
Part of the problem comes not just from the type of information we’re getting online but the sheer amount of it coming our way. The endless stream of notifications in our browsers and on our phones, from social media, news apps and emails, can quickly shift from feeling like information to feeling like noise. And when those notifications bring stressful or upsetting news, the effect is magnified. Here’s the thing: you can turn those notifications off. The email newsletters and news stories will still be there when you actually want to go check them, whether or not your phone beeped 35 times to let you know they exist. The Quiet Revolution, a blog for the book "Quiet", recommends managing your notifications in order to reduce stress tied to the internet and your devices. Shut off the notifications that stress you out the most. Then check in on your favorite apps and websites when you decide you’re ready for them, not every time something buzzes at you.
A 2015 study from the Pew Research Center looked at the effect of social media use on stress. They found that women experienced far more stress related to social media than men, and older and employed adults less than their younger and unemployed counterparts. Interestingly, the Pew research also indicated that the increased awareness of difficulties in the lives of the friends and family of participants, thanks to their connections on social media, had a negative effect on their own stress levels. If you’re already more anxious because of the struggles in the lives of your personal connections, then dealing with political stress might be even more difficult. Realizing this could help you accept that it’s OK to limit your exposure to stressful news stories during times when your resources are already stretched thin.
Give yourself permission to unfollow with impunity. You don’t have to follow every newspaper’s Twitter feed. You don’t need to watch the live blog for every political debate or rally or event. And while you might not be able to delete the uncle who posts a near-endless stream of inaccurate memes on Facebook, you can certainly hide his updates. If you find that you feel stressed out every time you see tweets or Facebook posts from certain accounts or contacts, find a way to not see them anymore.
Remember: if something truly important happens in local, state, national, or international politics, you will probably hear about it. There are ways to fill yourself in on the news of import that doesn't involve constantly refreshing your feeds. And sometimes, waiting a bit for the dust to settle is the smart move. That way, you’ll get the information when reporters have had a chance to sort out what’s accurate from what’s hearsay. And you can read analyses that involve some thought and consideration instead of a hasty hot take that doesn’t actually add to the conversation.
Some politicians in the UK have actually completed mindfulness courses. Those that completed the course have spoken about how it benefitted them, "Mindful_"_ reported, and helped them reconnect not just with themselves and those close to them but also across political divides. That approach could come in handy now, as partisan politics become ever more entrenched and the lead-up to an election in November continues. You can’t make all of the political stress go away, and shouldn’t—staying engaged and informed is important, even as you redefine those terms for your own benefit. But a bit of mindfulness practice could go a long way to getting you to November without experiencing political burnout.