Healthy Living: October 30, 2018

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – Stress and Political Conversations: Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of Americans say that the nation’s future is causing them stress, and more than 6 in 10 Americans (62%) say that the current political climate is causing them stress. That’s according to the 2018 “Stress in America” poll, conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association. In the final week before this year’s election, what are the implications of this high level of stress?


Is Stress Really a Bad Thing? Psychologists have learned that some level of stress is normal, and that mild to moderate levels of stress can actually improve performance in many areas. Think, for example, about when you took a test or exam. Chances are you performed a little better if you were slightly anxious; you probably studied a little more, and you stayed focused during the test itself.

But long term, high levels of stress overtax our stress response system. Our stress coping system is designed for the short term, the classic “fight or flight” response. When people feel stressed for long periods of time (hours, days, weeks), the stress response starts to wear down our body and our emotions. We feel tired, have headaches, become irritable, develop physical pain, and lose focus. Thus, chronic stress is bad for our bodies and our minds.

Why are Political Conversations So Stressful? Political discussions don’t necessarily need to be highly stressful. It depends on how you conduct them. Political conversations can, basically, take one of two shapes.

Stressful conversations result when we take an adversarial stance in a relationship. In this type of conversation, the focus is often on discrediting the sincerity or decency of the other person. Statements like “You are just a racist” or “You’re a communist” are designed to undermine the sincerity of the other person. And they are stressful.
On the one hand, social psychologists have found that people can be very good at working cooperatively. Given a common goal, people often form strong relationships and put forth great effort to overcome a difficult situation. Finding common ground is difficult in political conversations, but conversations focused on understanding, rather than persuading, the other person usually feel more cooperative than adversarial.

Tips for Managing Conversations When You Disagree. If you find yourself in a situation of political disagreement with a friend or family member, you are not alone. More than 1 in 4 Americans (27%) say that politics has created significant strain between themselves and a family member.

Accept that you may not change the other person’s mind. When in conversation, you may notice that the other person may not agree with your opinions or statements. Having conversations, specifically on sensitive topics, will not always be easy going. Recognize that you may not be able to change their viewpoints. Use the conversation as an opportunity to share views, not to convince anyone that your view is best.

Have conversation goals. Understanding your goals when it comes to communicating with others, may be helpful to having productive conversations. Whether the conversation is on a sensitive topic, such as healthcare, or not, it’s important to determine what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Is it that you want to change the person’s mind or to simply hear and better understand their point of view?

Disagreeing with someone you care about is ok. It is important to remember that you are not always going to agree with everyone. It is ok to agree to disagree. Your personal opinions and beliefs make you unique. It might be hard to accept that a loved one or friend may have opposing ideologies than you, but understanding their viewpoints will help contribute to healthy relationships.

Know when to end the conversation. If the conversation has not come to a resolution, you may want to find an appropriate time to end the discussion peacefully. It may be that you change the topic of conversation or suggest another activity, but reinforce maintaining the relationship you have with the other person. Even though there wasn’t an agreement, continue to participate in activities you enjoy together.

For More Information:
American Psychological Association