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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

What do Barack Obama and Sarah Palin have to do with your mental health?

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 5th 2008

donkey and elephantIn the United States right now, the political scene is really starting to heat up. The Democrats and Republicans have come out swinging drawing in millions of viewers to their conventions. For many of us, we can't deny it, it's downright exciting. Either way, it's history making. We are seeing, potentially, the first African-American President of the United States or the first Female Vice President of the United States. After the candidates have said their sound bites, there is a never-ending pool of pundits who come on the scene and swing back and forth at one another with the aim of being as sensational as possible to draw in as many viewers as they possibly can. The fast introductory images and high tempo music in the background keeps us on the edge of our seats. We are a people that love drama.

However, now more than ever we have multiple mediums that can connect us at any time to this excitement through television, the blogosphere, immediate messages via Twitter and text messaging from the various parties. If we're not careful we can become addicted and inundated with this excitement to a point where it turns into stress, anxiety, and potentially frustration and anger. Left unchecked, these forces of instability seep into our every day work environment and personal relationships. In a past blog I wrote about Mental Floss, the idea of becoming aware of what kinds of stimuli we are feeding our 5 senses. Overexposure to the political landscape and pundits can cause serious stress, we need to be aware.

In the past, I have literally seen people whose bodies are in knots and whose friendships and family relationships are completely strained due to an election. People become imbalanced, stress-out, irritable, and potentially aggressive to those who do not share their views. When it comes to stress-reduction and well-being, it's important to notice when you're starting to feel muscle tension in your body, rapid breathing, frustration, irritability or anger in a particular moment. If this is occurring here are a few tips to help you maintain balance for the sake of your own stress and your relationships to others:

  • Manage attention - Make a plan to engage with the TV, Blogs, text messages, etc... for a certain period of time during the day or at a certain time during the day (e.g., 7-8pm). After that time, catch up with the rest tomorrow, it will always be there in every medium you need.

  • Take a 3-minute breathing space - While this is a good practice on its own, if you feel yourself getting physically or emotionally tense choose to take a time-out. Take a few minutes out and breathe into your abdomen, keeping focus on it and even saying to yourself "rise" and "fall" as it does so. This can aid in calming your anxious mind.

  • Reflect on what you want - After calming a bit, ask yourself if you want to continue engaging in this material right now, or would it be best to temporarily shelve it and come back to it later?

  • Forgiveness - This next step may be difficult, but see if you can do it. If you don't feel up to it, you can try it another time. If you have been aggressive toward someone, go back to them in-person, phone, or via email and let them know that you were sorry you were aggressive and you're going to commit to not doing that again. Then say something nice or do something nice for them. Remember, this step is not to make the statement that their behavior was OK either, but to relieve yourself of the burden of your own guilt.

Monitoring our stress levels and what we are feeding our 5 senses on a daily basis can go a long way in allowing us to feel more balanced and less reactive during this time. Enjoy the excitement, but notice when it is turning into distress. Then take a break.

I look forward to seeing what unfolds. Please feel free to share how you handle this election time, what works for you and doesn't work? Any stories you think others can relate to? Am I missing something, feel free to comment.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Big Endians v. Little Endians - JR - Sep 7th 2008

My distinguished countryman, Johnathan Swift, satirised the differences between the political factions of his age as resembling those between a group that believed in breaking its eggs at the Big End, and those convinced with a passion that eggs should be broken at the Little End.  Perhaps he had a point.  Big Talk tends to be followed by Little Action, leading to very little actual Difference (or perhaps I should say Change) in the end.

Perhaps this reflection might ease "political anxiety syndrome" ?  But then, perhaps it might not.  It might just tip one into Depression ...

Roboseal for President !


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