Dear Dr. Hwang:
“Do you think that the politics of the upcoming election creates stress for most people?”
Eleven days before the election, campaign headquarters aggressively work to inundate us with advertisements to vote one way or another, many times throughout our day. We can expect to be exposed to approximately 25 to 100 advertisements a day without even realizing it. Whether we are driving down the freeway or within our neighborhood streets, we see names of candidates who are currently running for office everywhere we turn.
Besides, the obvious and explicit campaign ads on television, the internet, newspaper ads and billboards, there are: yard signs, bumper stickers, leaflets, pamphlets and flyers to greet us when we arrive home. The accumulation of signage and campaign efforts continues to implant messages, which are part of an organizational process to stimulate potential voters to critically examine options before heading to the polls to vote.
However, politics isn’t for everyone. Like anything, politics can have many stressful sides as well. Some psychological studies have revealed that overexposure to politics increases levels of cortisol, which can create a stress response of fight or flight. This in effect, runs down the immune systems ability to fight off illness and can even have a heightened response towards decreasing a person’s metabolism. Therefore, it is important to be sensitive to those who may not exude the same excitement towards politics that some may.
Yet, I think most people agree that democracy is important and a privilege. While the election process may create some emotional and psychological unrest, being able to cast your vote on November 6th, 2012 can create a sense of civic responsibility and euphoria as well.
Robust conversations about politics may seem enjoyable and even healthy, as long as it remains comfortable and demonstrates congruence with our values. This is normal. Yet, once political conversation attempts to cross party lines that we are less comfortable with, unexpected distress can create disharmony and worry.
We all desire certain individuals or parties to succeed. Therefore, when one party is perceived to be faring better than the other, it may feel stressful or even similar to a crisis. Voter turmoil is real and democracy has an emotional price tag attached to it.
Political systems are set up to invite controversy, freedom of speech, and freedom of social unrest and freedom of social justice issues to the floor. The United States attempts to create conversations that allow for diverse perspectives, regardless of comfort so that we critically think, evaluate and systematically change politics so that humanity can prosper.
How democracy is translated into feelings, thoughts, actions or beliefs is absolutely stressful at times. Therefore, it is important to protect yourself from any aftermath by making sure that you don’t over consume. Develop reasonable goals of how much you can handle or want to take in on any given day and subsidize your day with balanced perspectives to offset the stress.
While politics is exciting and engaging, it’s also okay to develop reasonable expectations of what’s consumed and how much. I say, “Vote for yourself and long-term wellness first!”
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD has a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is an adjunct professor at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology. Email questions to [email protected]
The purpose of this column is to invite you, the readers, to ask questions related to psychological and emotional healthcare issues that you are seeking an opinion to.
This column is not intended to diagnose or offer absolute answers. Instead, it is a very informal platform to begin a dialogue with you the reader, about psychological and emotional healthcare issues that you would like to discuss. Your identity will be protected.
Kim Hwang, PsyD