Do you find yourself getting riled up when reading political articles or talking with friends or family about the presidential race? Do the debates cause you to pour out your feelings on Facebook or other social media? A large percentage of Americans have found ourselves in that place. However, psychologists advise us to settle down.
An August poll by The American Psychological Association revealed that more than half of U.S. adults felt very or somewhat stressed by the presidential campaigns.
It may be unbeknownst to us, but our bodies actually feel the stress we place on them over things like political disagreements and defending our candidate of choice. When we feel that we are fighting between right and wrong, it can put our bodies under physical duress. We may think our stress is caused by work or our busy schedules, but much of it can be due to our recent strong political feelings and anxiety.
The National Institute of Mental Health describes how stress can affect a person’s body in this way, “Different people may feel it in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them.” With chronic, or continual, stress, such as might be felt in a prolonged time period of political feuding, our bodies can react by lowering immunity, and by ceasing the normal function of certain bodily systems, so that they can put more resources towards dealing with the stress. This happens in a fight or flight type of bodily response to a sudden threat, however, when the source of stress is constant, problems can occur when the body is trying to accommodate to prolonged stress.
According to psychologists, there are things we can do to avoid conflicts and help our own bodies feel less stress. These include showing understanding, and asking why the person you disagree with feels the way they do. Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, reminds us that the purpose of a political conversation is not to win, but to exchange points if view. He says, “Be the first to de-escalate”, to avoid getting too heated when things get personal.
Maidenberg also mentions that discussions, or arguments, over the internet are not the best way to go. He says, “In-person interactions are likely to be more satisfying and rewarding in the long run.” This makes sense when considering the fact that many sentiments can be easily misinterpreted over the internet, when tone of voice has to be guessed over text, rather than accurately perceived in a face-to-face discussion.
If more of us remember that we are not in a competition to win correct points of view, then there may be less physical stress on everyone, and more peace, throughout the presidential campaign discussion.