Political stress and its management

Political uncertainty can be challenging, regardless of your beliefs or where you might fall on the political spectrum. As the bitterly fought Panama Leaks legal action nears climax, the verbal aggression dominating the political atmosphere is making everyone feel apocalyptic. Political friends, across the party divide, are also feeling traumatised for continuously living through this ordeal. Some of them may have found themselves wake up screaming and then realised they hadn’t fallen asleep yet.

Life has its ways of testing us, either by nothing happening or by everything happening at once. It is also true that much of the stress people feel doesn’t come from doing too much but from not finishing what they started. We also forget that five years from now, most of what we are stressed about, would not matter. Nonetheless, it is difficult to tell political friends that worrying is like a proverbial rocking chair that gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.

It is impossible to avoid the toxic political drama in the media landscape. There is constant bombardment from TV, Twitter, and Facebook, which have become gladiatorial arenas for rival political tribes to compete. No wonder stress is now known as nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness. Originally from the Latin word ‘strictus’ (strict), its symptoms vary from person to person but often include a combination of psychological (worry, tension, irritability) and biological (headaches, insomnia, stomach problems) reactions.

One may not realise but somewhere between handling political challenges and juggling schedules, you start losing it. You feel you have nowhere to turn to, and have no access to friends or relatives where you can share your worries. You forget that you are the author of your own story. In the leading role, you determine how you interact with your supporting cast. Without realising, you may have let the life events write your story. It is time to step outside of yourself because it is better to hug a tree than to bang your head against a wall continuously.

There is no way to take stress out of a political crisis, but there are a few tips that can help you get through. Before we check out the general principles to manage stress, let us see how the main players deal with it. Two of them like to escape (with synthetic support) — one goes to the mountains and the other leaves these shores. The other two regress and cope with it by indulging (with corporeal support) — one goes oral (food and fun) and the other goes ballistic (work and no-play). The trouble with these approaches is proverbial: it isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.

Life has its ways of testing us, either by nothing happening or by everything happening at once

In times of crisis, you need to go back to basics — eat right, get plenty of sleep, listen to your favourite music and exercise. Make these a habit, and habits equal autopilot. Even if you feel broken and irrelevant, take stock of the things that no longer serve you best and replace them with things that do. Reconnect with who you truly are and what you want rather than letting the outside world determine. Bring out your strengths while knowing that tension rises when you think whom you should be and relaxation follows by accepting who you really are. It is also time to reconnect with the neglected friends and family who give you a sense of inclusion, safety, and community.

Do stay informed, but know your limits. Consider how much news you take in and how that is affecting you. Everyone knows that a quick-fix does not work, yet we are sold on the idea. Drugs can only give temporary relief from tension; but they can be additive and you would end up with two problems instead of one. Poor breathing is the actual source of tension and low energy. Have regular intervals of long deep slow breaths — inhale peace, and exhale stress. Imagine and try to breathe like a resting person — most of your physical tension will disappear (relaxation therapy and Yoga are the next steps). High levels of stress have been associated with anxiety, depression, fatigue and high blood pressure. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to accept that some things are beyond your control. The believers may seek solace that when the world around is crumbling, God is the rock they can stand on. True balance, and harmony, necessitates finding your own way to override the addictive and reactive emotions that are the fabric of your subjective illusion. Recovery is the affirmative outcome you’ll enjoy once you have moved through a setback and arrived on the other side.

If you focus on a problem, the problem gets bigger; you need to focus on solutions. You can manage if you take only one day at a time, but the load will be too heavy if we carry yesterday and tomorrow’s burden. Live in the moment — the past you can do nothing about and the future will take care of itself. If stress starts interfering with daily routine for an extended period of time, it might be time to catch up with an old friend (psychiatrist).

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist and visiting professor based in London