Tips For Protecting Your Mental Health When Politics Seem Overwhelming

It doesn't matter if you're a Republican, Democrat, or somewhere in between; we can probably all agree that the current political climate is doing a number on us. From behavior by a former contentious president to an administration that's struggling to do the best it can but not always pleasing the people who voted for it, the last several years have been strange and stressful, to say the least. In fact, a 32-question survey found that politics is actually making people sick — physically and psychologically.


The 2020 survey, conducted by author Kevin Smith, Ph.D., was the second survey he had conducted on the topic. In 2017, he conducted the same survey and wanted to see if, in 2020, things had changed — they didn't. What he found was that 25% of Americans had seriously considered moving because of the politics in the U.S., and 40% could point their finger directly at politics as the source of the major stress in their life, citing politics as the reason for their lack of sleep, anger, compulsive behavior, and difficulties in not acting out on those angry feelings. 

"The fact that so many people are pointing at politics as a chronic source of stress and as exacting a negative toll on their psychological health suggests that politics certainly isn't supporting mental health and is likely detracting from it," Dr. Smith tells Very Well Mind.


But while we can't change the political climate, we can change how we allow it to affect us. Here's how to keep your mental health in check, as the political world feels like it's spinning out of control.

Stay nourished and hydrated

When it comes to supporting your mental health, it's always good to start with your body. If your body isn't in tip-top shape, meaning you're not getting the necessary vitamins and hydrating, you can't expect your mind to be strong enough to stand up against stress.


"We tend to separate our brain from the rest of our body, but good health means good health from a holistic perspective — from head to toe," board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Gabriela Cora tells Aetna. "Why wouldn't we think eating well would also impact our mental health?"

As the link between what we eat and how it affects our moods and feelings has become more of a discussion, a field of study called nutritional psychiatry has emerged. Nutritional psychiatry focuses on how essential it is to eat right and how food impacts one's mental state — not just those who are diagnosed with things like depression, but everyone. This means eating foods that nourish the brain instead of harming it. Foods that nourish are antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Sugar, for example, is a food that harms the brain, so that's something to decrease or, if you can, eliminate altogether — it can actually cause the brain to shrink.


Know your limits

Too much of anything is bad, even if it feels good in the moment. While you may be enjoying all your intake of news while it's happening because, honestly, it's like watching a car wreck you can't take your eyes off of, too much of it is going to mess you up.


According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are ways to stay informed but not overdose on too much news. One technique is asking yourself if the news is helpful or not. If you're constantly glued to negativity, that's not helpful for anyone. Between the world pandemic and politics, to say we're living in unprecedented times feels like an understatement. So, choose what you can take in and handle carefully. Also, stick to reliable news sources and limit your social media time. Social media has already been proven to cause depression in adults, so there's no sense in just piling it on with posts from other people that are politically charged.

Speak up for change

It's natural to feel powerless when it feels like the world is going crazy, so you can help your mental health by speaking up and getting involved. A good place to start is looking at organizations that are meaningful to you in your community and advocating for change on a local level. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, being part of a community and doing hands-on work when it comes to productive change can help people feel accepted and supported. Feeling like you belong to someplace outside of yourself and your usual surroundings is fulfilling through and through — it certainly gives you a purpose and a way to feel like you have control over at least something in your life. 


A study published in April 2021 found that being part of a community atmosphere, especially during a crisis like Covid-19, does so much for mental health. The study cited that a "shared identity" and "solidarity" leads to people feeling emotionally and mentally supported. If the political climate feels like a crisis, then get involved in something important to you. 

Get your body moving

According to the World Health Organization, just 30 minutes of physical activity every day is directly linked to positively supporting mental health. That can mean running, working out, gardening, yoga, or just going for a stroll to clear your head. Just do something you love to do that involves moving your body and devote a half hour to it. 


Not only does exercise help with your mental health, but research has found that it also helps you sleep better at night — and since the 2020 survey had so many people blaming politics for not getting enough shut-eye, exercising can help with that as well. It's also a healthy alternative to sleeping aids, which can be addictive, to get your recommended seven to nine hours a night of sleep. Getting up, feeling refreshed, and ready to start your day won't only set the mood for the day but can even set the mood for the week. 

Reach out to a professional

Sometimes there's only so much we can do on our own. It's then that we need to reach out to a professional for therapy sessions or, perhaps, even medication too. If there was anything to come out of the early days of Covid-19, when no one was sure what was going to happen in the world, it was that people were getting professional mental help and it was making a big difference in so many lives. Even those who had never thought they would need therapy were setting up online sessions.


"I think everybody was just in a state of disbelief that this was coming on so quickly and dramatically," psychologist Dr. Mary Alvord tells CNBC. "That first rush was anxiety in terms of daily uncertainty of not know what was going to happen [regarding] the pandemic. And I think that it turned to a lot of sadness."

The American Psychological Association confirmed that therapists were in such high demand — and continue to be so — that some have waiting lists. There's something to be said for those who finally admit to themselves they need professional help to guide them. If you find that you can't navigate the political climate on your own and its toll has pretty much leveled you, then find a therapist near you.


If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.