There’s nothing like presidential politics to get under your skin—and inside your head.
If you groan over Facebook posts, mutter angrily at ads and yell during campaign debates, you may find it hard to keep a sense of mental well-being during this political season.
Spectrum Health psychologist Jared Skillings, PhD, ABPP, suggests a few steps you can take to keep your cool.
First, it may help to know why we are subject to a bombardment of political ads. It’s especially intense in the run-up to Election Day. But face it—the onslaught will continue for a while.
Politicians clearly know something about “mere exposure effect,” also known as the familiarity effect.
“The research shows the more people are exposed to things or other people, the more they begin to like them or get used to them,” Dr. Skillings said.
That has been shown even when people say they dislike an idea—or person.
“That’s part of the reason why advertisements are repeated over and over and over, even if (people) feel like it’s annoying,” he said. “People ironically get used to it and are more likely to vote for or buy products that they are familiar with.”
Emotion plays a key role in this effect. People are more likely to remember things that are more emotional or shocking. That’s why campaign ads often aim for anger or include touching images and emotional music.
So, what can we do when emotions rev up—particularly the anger?
Before you throw the remote across the room or unfriend your entire family, Dr. Skillings has five tips to keep things in perspective:
1. Control information flow
Learn enough to make an informed decision at the polls. But watch out for pointless anger.
If that’s happening, take a social media vacation. Turn off the TV and take a walk. Record your favorite shows so you can watch them later—and fast-forward through the commercials.
2. Take action
Channel that emotion into something constructive. Get involved in a campaign. Answer phones or raise funds.
“That’s more constructive than sitting on the couch and yelling at the TV,” Dr. Skillings said.
3. Recognize what’s out of your control
If your neighbor—or cousin or sister—insists on supporting a cause or candidate you despise, remember that you can control only your views and your vote.
4. Recognize when there’s a problem
Dr. Skillings does not suggest political angst can lead to a mental disorder. But it can make you feel lousy.
Undirected anger can cause people to lose sleep or have headaches. It can cause such tension that it interferes with relationships.
If you see that happening, step back and look for ways to cope.
5. Think of the children
If a home is filled with political rants and doomsday predictions, “kids will pick up on that and have a bad attitude,” Dr. Skillings said. “Don’t let the argument between all the candidates change the tone in your house.”