The current political scene in the U.S. is both stressful and addictive. For millions of people the adage about never criticizing someone’s politics or religion has suffered a casualty; talking about politics has become the norm. Critics may complain that outrageous behavior from the White House is being normalized, but at a more hidden level, stress is being normalized too—not something to welcome in a society where achievement is already equated with working more than 40 hours a week.
Given the increasing amount of time we spend at work, stress over the country’s political situation is naturally seeping in. This is bad news. Acute stress—the kind that makes you angry, pressured, and fearful of getting an ulcer—becomes worse as the environment around you turns more unpredictable and out of control. You’re likely to experience such an environment when you’re at the office.
The notion that mounting stress constitutes a fact of life—or even a way to thrive—has gained tacit approval. Yet the stress you think you experience is having a damaging effect on you at the cellular level. Chronic stress delivers a slow drip of low-grade stress that most people don’t usually notice. When stress is “in the air,” whether at home or in the office, the overall balance of biorhythms, hormone levels, blood pressure, and other vital signs is incrementally thrown off.
“Incrementally” sounds innocuous, but we now know that the vast majority of lifestyle disorders, from heart disease and stroke to type 2 diabetes and probably cancer, are incremental diseases that take years or decades to develop before symptoms appear. The two main culprits of this are low-grade inflammation and chronic stress.
Neither of these displays overt symptoms. What they have in common is that they both are supposed to function only on a temporary basis. When a temporary response becomes long-lasting, your body compensates as best it can, but every cell has its limitations. Over time, a red line is crossed, and irreversible damage begins to appear. Some health experts consider the double whammy of low-grade inflammation and chronic stress to be the key to both aging and disease over the long run.
Destressing takes as long as it took to build up all of our stress in the first place. In order to begin the process, you should start with spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga. These should continue throughout one’s lifetime. That’s a huge ask for modern Westerners. But you can take advantage of meditation’s benefits—especially increased self-awareness—in your everyday work behavior.
Here are seven other behaviors you can do to increase your self-awareness at work and overcome the stress associated with U.S. politics:
- Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t multi-task. For example, don’t read political news while you’re working on a difficult project.
- Keep your focus relaxed instead of tense, which begins by working without interruptions in a quiet environment.
- Lose physical tension by standing up once an hour, preferably combined with a few stretches and a short walk.
- When a situation gets tense—especially if it’s a political argument—walk away as soon as you can.
- Take downtime three times a day when you can be quiet and alone. Take some deep breaths and center yourself.
- Maintain contact with the people who matter most to you for at least an hour a day, combining phone calls, texts, emails, and best of all, personal engagement. Don’t talk about politics.
- Stay away from the people at work who create pressure, show no regard for the comfort level of others, and force their politics on you.
Remember, you aren’t passing a test by proving how much stress you can pile on yourself at work. If you let political stress get to you, you are ignoring what your body wants to do to keep you healthy for life.