The coronavirus has brought with it a number of stressors, including job loss, social isolation, childcare challenges, and general uncertainty. All of those things can be taxing to your mental and emotional health. But to add another element to an already stressful year for so many, 2020 is also an election year.
While it is important to be informed about the candidates, their policies and their vision for the country moving forward, there is something else that is important to keep in consideration during election season — your mental and emotional wellbeing.
We spoke with Dustin Webb, a licensed clinical social worker and administrator of Behavioral Health for Texas Health Dallas, for a few suggestions on how to balance this, how to navigate tough conversations with friends and family members, and how to keep the peace during the holidays.
Picking Your Battles
Even though friends and family members are arguably some of the closest people in your life, and you get along in so many ways, it’s natural to not see eye-to-eye on everything — including politics. Our core beliefs underly the way we see the world and politics are closely linked to our core beliefs for many. When faced with having a debate, you’re essentially challenging each other’s core beliefs, which is no small feat considering these beliefs tend to form over many years and can take just as long to change.
While you may feel compelled to hold a debate with someone over these beliefs, Webb says it’s important to first ask yourself what you value more — the relationship you have with this person or winning the debate?
“One thing we often hear is that people go into a debate with family or friends thinking that they can win the debate and change the mind of the other person, but what you’re really trying to do is to change a belief system,” Webb explains. “Then comes the disappointment or anger from not changing that person’s opinion. When you look back on it, was the debate worth the emotional consequence? Knowing the answer to that will help us know how to respond to (or avoid) these conversations in the future.”
This can also carry over into the digital realm on social media. You may run across friends and family members posting things you don’t agree with, and because you are not face-to-face with them, it can be easier to start a debate with them. You might even say things you’d never say to them in person or vice versa. Even more, your debate is on display for everyone to see — and jump in on.
“In response to this, I am seeing more people choose to either get off of social media or to limit their time on it significantly,” Webb says. “Others are using their platform filters to limit the amount of political information that they see or to ‘mute’ friends and family members who they know have differing views.”
Setting up Boundaries
The more involved you are with this election, the more likely you will disagree with family members or friends. While difficult conversations are inevitable sometimes, especially during the holidays when many friends and family members tend to gather and converse, it’s important to set boundaries and know how to exit these conversations if needed.
Listening to another person’s view is just as important as them listening to yours, but remember that yelling matches are hardly productive, and they can actually be harmful to your emotional and mental wellbeing. When having these conversations with others, know your points and practice active, open and compassionate listening. If the conversation begins to feel combative, consider bowing out or stepping away so that everyone can regain composure.
“Acknowledge that the conversation is getting combative and personal,” Webb suggests. “Say out loud, ‘While I wish that the two of us could have this conversation without feelings getting hurt, I don’t think it’s possible for me right now. Let’s change the subject.’ And then you change the subject.”
If the subject keeps reverting back or the other person refuses to change the subject, you have every right to walk away from the conversation.
“Political conversations are very personal and can be very damaging to some people. No one would expect a person to go to an event where the likelihood of physical harm is high. The same applies to our mental and emotional well-being,” Webb adds. “There are times when avoidance really is the best coping strategy we can use.”
If you’re hosting a holiday gathering this year, it’s also a good idea to set boundaries or expectations for the event well in advance, and letting everyone who is attending know that the focus of the get-together is to celebrate the occasion and the things you all enjoy about each other.
The same goes for the digital frontier. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by the news that pops up on your feed or politically charged posts by friends, family, strangers or even the candidates themselves, create a time block for catching up when you’ll be most at ease and relaxed. Then, turn it off.
Likewise, consider setting similar boundaries for social media during this season. It may be easier for you to mute notifications for the apps on your phone or delete them altogether until the election season is over. If you wish to engage with others, consider sharing useful facts and links to articles instead of opinion posts.
Acknowledge Your Feelings and Your Power to Remove Yourself
Remember, you do not have to be a bystander when it comes to how the election season affects you. Webb suggests being intentional about what you expose yourself to and what to avoid and acknowledging how you feel at any given time.
“Our ‘triggers’ come in many forms, be it the news, social media or people,” he explains. “Over the past several months, many of us have had to make tough choices when it comes to avoiding things we previously did not. But the silver lining is that this is good preparation for doing the same with the election season.”
Ultimately, remember that guilt or anger are not helpful emotions when it comes to these decisions.
“You would advise a close friend not to feel guilty about making a decision that is healthy for them,” Webb adds. “The same advice applies to you.”
While it can be tempting to put too much focus on the few (or several) friends, relatives or complete strangers who always seem to drive you crazy, it’s important to practice self-care before and during the election season to keep your sanity.
“Keep the focus on good self-care basics and a positive attitude,” says Rebecca Hardy, a licensed professional counselor on the staff at Texas Health Springwood Behavioral Health. “Get enough rest and eat well. Take a walk. Exercise. Listen to your favorite music. Call a friend and laugh. Organize reasonably and expect the unexpected.
“Remember that a good way to interact with friends and family is to let everyone feel valued, included and important. Thinking about people’s strengths will help you get into the mindset of seeing the best in them.”
If all else fails and you just don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with combative friends or family members right now, especially during the upcoming holidays, Hardy recommends shaking things up.
“It’s perfectly acceptable to make a new decision for this year, if necessary,” she says. “Some people opt to go on a trip, volunteer, spend time with others or work extra shifts. The choices are endless and there are times when you just need to do things in a new way. Remember, this too shall pass.”
If you or someone you know is struggling right now, visit Texas Health Behavioral Health or call the helpline at 682-236-6023, which is available 24/7.