You’re probably experiencing some political anxiety about what kind of country you’re living in.
You’re surely anxious about what the future holds for you, your family, your gender, your race, and your religion.
Your nerves are definitely raw no matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum.
You’re also not the only one.
Seven score and sixteen years ago, we were in the same situation: a despised President and bitterly divided fearful Americans. Same reasons, too: prejudice and discrimination.
This might sound familiar to you:
This President won less than 40% of the popular vote. His rhetoric incensed and provoked fear in more than half of his fellow citizens. To say he was widely hated would be a gross understatement.
I’m talking about Abraham Lincoln.
His election tore families apart and the was the catalyst for 7 states seceding from the Union before his inauguration. I still don’t think any other man has assumed the Presidency steeped in as much acrimony as Lincoln did in March 1861, even after last week’s events. The country didn’t get the President it wanted then, but it certainly got the one it needed. Nowadays, old Abe is consistently ranked as one of (if not) the best and most beloved Presidents in American history.
You’re probably wondering how a history lesson is supposed to relieve your political anxiety about these uncertain times. Well, here it is:
Knowledge of American history, government, and politics can be a soothing balm for political anxiety in uncertain times.
It certainly has been for me and can be for you, too.
While I’m no academic historian, I spent nearly a decade teaching this stuff and fielding tough questions from students in Miami, FL. My understanding of these subjects gave me perspective and kept me pretty even keeled during the past election cycle. Because I know how the US Constitution works. I understand its separation of powers and checks and balances, the reasoning used to create these, and I have studied it in action in the context of history. That also means I also know how I can effectively participate in the American government. I don’t feel powerless or dependent on the biased opinions of others to keep me informed, but I recognize that’s not that case for many of my fellow citizens.
I know because I can see the fear in their sullen faces.
I can hear the fear in their angry voices.
I can read the fear between the lines of their tweets.
I know you’re worried, but worry increases fear of the thing itself. It doesn’t serve you. Instead, try some of the following suggestions.
Anxiety is rooted in the belief that says, “If X happens, I can’t handle the outcomes Y and Z.” Now stop and ask yourself if that’s true. Can you really not handle it (whatever it is)? Here’s an example: think back to November 7, 2016. Did you think you could deal with a Trump presidency? Probably not, but yet, here you are faced with that outcome. And you’ve handled it.
Political anxiety is fear fueled by a lack of information AND an overabundance of it.
So go get schooled in American history, government, and politics. John Burkowski, Jr., board member of Miami-Dade’s Council for the Social Studies, recommends Jessamyn Conrad’s What You Should Know About Politics…But Don’t: A Nonpartisan Guide to the Issues that Matter and Linda Monk’s The Words We Live By are good places to start learning about the Constitution and politics. Get a copy of A Short History of the United States by Robert Remini for an overview. Like I used to tell my students – you need to know the rules and their context in order to effectively participate.
Reading the news is another way to stay informed.
Here’s the caveat, though: read reputable news sources. In recent years it seems that news organizations lead with op-eds while the fact-based investigative articles take a back seat. The press can spin and slant stories 23 ways to serve their agenda, which can misrepresent circumstances and make them seem more critical and dire than they are.
Exercise caution with what you let into your ears and into your brain.
Find neutral sources of investigative journalism that don’t provoke anxiety or reactionary fear in you. Burkowski Jr. suggests NPR, Reuters, BBC, and the Associated Press as relatively objective news outlets. Then, set aside a designated time to consume your current events regularly so they don’t consume you. Avoid night time before bed, though.
Get involved. Action can be a great release for political anxiety.
Use your knowledge to find causes that you care about and participate in reputable organizations that support them. Burkowski Jr. recommends calling (not writing) your local, state, and federal representatives to let them know about the issues you care about and why these are important to you. Calling is powerful because the representative’s staffer is a human. Hearing the passion and emotion in your voice will help her/him connect with you, which will increase the likelihood that they convey your message to the elected official. Program your reps’ phone numbers into your phone so you can call them when something important comes up.
Find out who your representatives are.
Burkowski Jr. says to start by looking at your voter registration card. The numbers on it will tell you information about your district and your corresponding representatives in DC, at the state legislature, local city commission, community council, and school board. A quick web search using this information will help you identify their names, websites, and other contact information. Once you know have this information, look up their voting records, too. That information is important for you to know, too.
Vote EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
It’s the most fundamental way you can get involved. Make it a point to cast your ballot for all local, state, and national elections. Local and state elections tend to have very low voter turnout, but impact the quality of your life more. No shame if you’re not registered. Check out your local department of elections’ website on your city or county government’s website for more information about how to register.
Don’t be part of the noisy rabble.
There are a lot of emotional knee-jerk responses that are poorly thought out and not based on facts. They’re adding to the noise, and in turn, fomenting more anxiety in their neighbors. No one communicates well or makes sound choices in a state of distress.
Have meaningful and respectful conversations with people.
ESPECIALLY with people that are different races, gender, religions than you or are on the ‘other side’ of an issue. It’ll help you stay open-minded and not fall prey to the fear that tends to vilify ‘others’.
Talk to the kids and teens in your life about your values, politics, current events, and about the responsibilities of a citizen. Ask them questions, and be prepared to listen even if you don’t agree with them. You’ll be teaching them critical thinking skills and modeling civil discourse for them, a much-needed communication skill.
I know all these suggestions take an investment of time, a resource that seems to be limited. And there’s certainly no immediate gratification in doing so. But do it anyway. The truth is you make time for the things that matter to you – grocery shopping, manicures, kayaking, paddleboarding, vacations, etc. You’ll make the time if being and staying politically informed and active are important to you. Don’t believe me? Read this.
We know you’re feeling a mixture of emotions. We hope these suggestions help you reduce the anxiety you may be feeling due to the current political climate. You can reach us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult if you’re in need of additional support.
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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