How to Deal with Anxiety during Times of Political Upheaval
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It’s no secret or surprise to anyone that times of political upheaval also see an uptick in anxiety-- after all, these times and the circumstances that brought them on are rife with fear and other emotions we generally tag as “negative” and don’t want to feel. And these feelings may overwhelm us to the point where we’re scared not to just to feel them, but to express and understand them.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Why suppressing your emotions is unhealthy
- Healthy ways to manage anxiety
- What to do for ongoing symptoms
We’re glad you found this article, and we hope that after reading it, you’re empowered to make positive changes in your emotional processing.
We generally don’t think of being emotionless as a good thing-- or a human thing, for that matter. So why do we push aside suppress so-called negative emotions?
In the moment, or for a short amount of time after the moment, suppressing emotions can help us accomplish goals. For example, you might suppress your frustration at your child wetting the bed in order to deal with the situation in a loving and supportive way. Or you might suppress fear in an emergency situation so that you can calmly report and assist.
But both in the short- and long-term, we must eventually face our emotions and deal with them, or they will consume us-- possibly exploding into behaviors, actions and words we regret.
For a long time, Western thinking labeled “emotions” as something to be avoided and irrational. Then the Renaissance hit and artists struggled to explore those same emotions, holding them in higher regard and the path to truth. It’s important to recognize that emotions-- even “negative” ones like fear or anger-- are not evil or bad for us. They are healthy and valid responses to our world and experiences.
That is not to say they should be treated lightly. When emotions are bottled up and explode, the effects can range from hurtful to dangerous. But as with anything in life, the fear of emotions allows them to control us. We must learn to embrace them-- or at the very least, grit our teeth and work with them, rather than against them-- or eventually they will exhaust us and eat us from within.
True growth comes only from treating both the individual parts and the whole person, not the symptoms.
And fear of emotions feeds anxiety, for multiple reasons-- there’s more to manage in efforts to avoid them, which leads to overthinking, and the fear of feeling those “negative” emotions fuels anxiety over how to deal with them, plus any suppression that results in an explosion creates guilt, overthinking, over-analyzing, and more anxiety due to the harm the explosion creates. The mere thought of the results of out-of-control emotions can be enough to trigger someone’s anxiety.
Add to that a politically divided and hostile environment, and the anxiety increases-- suppression is worse, because you feel like you’re living in a powder keg and you don’t want to be the one to blow it up by saying or doing the wrong thing, and the release of pent-up and avoided emotions may be more explosive as a result.
Find healthy ways to manage anxiety
So how do you manage your anxiety and express your feelings safely in such a nerve-wracking climate?
First, check in with yourself, and observe yourself as you feel your emotions and engage with them-- what emotions do you avoid and why? Do you push any away? Do you engage with them at a later time? What does engaging with your negative (and positive) emotions look like? We highly recommend journaling about this. The main goal here is to discover and understand what your emotional landscape is like and how you choose to navigate it, versus how you are capable of navigating it.
Mindfulness exercises are also helpful here, because they help bring you to a calmer place where you can learn more about yourself. Mindfulness exercises can include various types of meditation and guided visualizations. The goal is not to have an empty mind, but to find a way to calmly observe the workings of your mind without becoming attached to them.
Another step to take is to learn to stop judging your emotions. Mindfulness exercises also help with this step because they help you create a buffer between the point of activating emotions and deciding how to act on or feel them. By thinking of certain emotions as more valid than others, you are cheating yourself out of a chance to process them in healthy ways and adding more stress to your life.
This is a great chance to do some shadow work to fully understand your emotions and fully integrate your whole self. Shadow work is an opportunity to confront the emotional and psychological things we don’t care for in ourselves, and therefore repress or suppress. For example, we don’t like to think of ourselves as angry, so we shove it down and hope it doesn’t explode. Shadow work allows you to safely recognize the anger, its cause, and process it.
But don’t get so caught up in figuring it out that you become obsessed with analyzing and trying to diagnose yourself. Over-indulging in anything is not healthy, and you risk leading yourself further into anxiety with overthinking and stress over trying to figure yourself out.
It’s also important to develop a support system of people you can rely upon to discuss your feelings with safely. Ask them if they are able to listen to you and help you process your emotions before you engage in the discussion, and respect their answers. And remember that “no” does not mean that they don’t want to, or that you’re a burden to them. “No” simply means that they are at capacity and will be there for you at a different time. Your support system can also include a mental health professional, which we’ll discuss further in the next section.
Finally, to the best of your ability, nothing helps your mind and body to process emotions and handle anxiety like eating well, resting well, and exercising. Eat your fruits and vegetables, and limit meat consumption. Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine-- too much caffeine can trigger panic-like physical symptoms which can trigger anxiety. Get your sleep when you are able, turning tech devices off well before bedtime. When you are exhausted, rest, which is different from sleeping. And finally, get up and move-- even a 10 minute brisk walk boosts the feel-good brain chemicals for two whole hours or more. Dancing around your apartment for two or three good songs also has the same effect.
Treatment options for symptoms that just don’t stop
But what if your symptoms just won’t go away, or your anxiety overwhelms to a point where it affects your ability to live normally?
Then it’s time to call in the big guns, on top of trying to engage in the above advice.
When symptoms just won’t stop, make sure to include a mental health professional of some kind. This could include a psychologist, psychiatrist, or nurse practitioner with a focus on mental health. Since therapy primarily is talk therapy, there’s no need to leave your home-- simply find a space to hold meetings, set firm and clear boundaries with friends and family about therapy time, and get to work. Apps like Better Health make it easy to find someone to do virtual therapy, but most therapists will offer or happily accept virtual appointments. If health insurance is an issue, find a sliding scale clinic.
If your doctor or therapist prescribes medication, be sure to take it regularly. Herbal remedies such as nervines chamomile, lavender, or lemon balm are popular, as are CBD remedies. Adaptogens such as ashwagandha help the body adapt to stressors and make dealing with anxiety easier. As always, check with your entire health team-- including your pharmacist-- before adding any homeopathic remedies to your treatment plan. Be sure to take all of your medicines correctly and on a set schedule for maximum effectiveness. Do not stop medicines without contacting your doctor first, and report adverse symptoms immediately.
Other treatments that a doctor may prescribe or recommend include Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, which uses a device to send targeted magnetic pulses into areas of the brain that control anxiety and depression. It rewires those areas of the brain, which results in less or even remission of anxiety, depression, and their symptoms. There are other treatments that accomplish this goal, but TMS has the least amount of side effects and is very safe.
We have a lot going on in the world right now, and that can trigger anxiety in major ways, including in folks who have never experienced anxiety as a mental health issue before. But there is tons of help out there, and getting help is safely accessible for everyone.
Take the first step now and get back to feeling like yourself again.