*This text was written in partnership with Melissa Marsden, M.Ed. and Change Facilitator in the UK
Many of you have noticed the ambience of polarization within politics that has been strengthening over the last couple of years. We are witnessing an increase of extremist political views being proclaimed and broadcast on the web from all around the world. Many times, these ideas are communicated in a very provocative and aggressive manner. We also find that those engaging in such practices come from all layers of society, ranging from politicians and people of public interest to regular citizens.
Along with the advancement of Internet connectivity and social media, our main source of information is rapidly moving from television and printed news, to the Internet. As a confrontational form of communicating becomes more frequent and pronounced on the web, we are constantly coming in contact with material that distresses us. By reading some online comments, we are left with a sense that people are becoming less attentive to the feelings of others and in favour of extreme emotional and verbal reactions. Additionally, with the rise of conservative views of society, many of the statements being made are targeting racial, social and/or economic minorities, such as the LGBTQ community, immigrants, certain religious practices and those in poverty, aggravating the risks of developing limiting mental health issues in an already vulnerable group.
Thus, if you have experienced bodily tension, insomnia, anxiety, loneliness, fear or deep hopelessness in this polarized political climate, we have written this article for you! It will be published in separated parts with practical tips. What motivated us? Well… we work in the fields of mental health and education and have been experiencing first hand the impacts of the current societal changes on the life and mental health of many of the young individuals and social minority group of people we have been working with. Our goal is to aid those who in the current local or global political environments are experiencing emotional unease.
Here are our first suggestions for you to keep mental health and well-being during this political context:
Promote meaningful conversations with a variety of people about your political concerns, both offline and online. ‘True conversations’, as the journalist Celeste Headlees defines in her TED Talk, include: being really present at the moment (don’t multitask!), and don’t focus on teaching your interlocutor but on learning something new (listening!).
Better regulate the activities and/or time you spend on the Internet. Be aware of the misleading nature of social media, which, in an era of pronounced individualism, can provide us with the illusion of belonging that can be very addictive. We are not suggesting you quit social media for good, but if you feel it’s getting you bogged down emotionally, why not allocate social media-free time slots during your daily routine? If you are not convinced, note that the OECD has found that excessive internet use can have a negative effect on wellbeing, and PISA (2015) has found that the longer people spend online, the more likely they are to experience cyberbullying. Finally, Facebook has felt the need to publish a blog post indicating that in certain instances using Facebook can have a negative effect on people’s moods and that heavier users of the site can have worse mental health. So the slight change of habit suggested could do you a whole lot of good!
Do not engage in political debates on platforms you are not very familiar with the basic rules and resources. If you master the tool you are using and are knowledgeable and familiarised with the resources available, you are less likely to experience stressful moments while navigating.
Do not let fear be the main motivation for your communication. Fear is an important emotion that protects us when facing real danger. Stereotypes are, for many reasons, also very useful to us. Nevertheless, encountering differences or confronting the unknown can be very daunting, can confuse us, can make us question the values we take for granted. As the Internet enables us to broaden our network, we are more likely to find people who think differently and make different choices in life. Instead of instantly reacting to fear, give yourself time to sit with those emotions and reflect on them. Identify why you are feeling this way. Why has this or that political/social/economic opinion disturbed you so much? What kind of danger are you scared of? Your current level of fear is proportional to the real danger? In answering these questions, decide if you are going to engage in the conversation or not. Will your contribution bring to a meaningful conversation? Or is the main purpose of your words to publicize your fears, anger and frustrations? How will that help others? Will that help you to feel better and face the real danger you perceive? If it is so, stand for your arguments!
We hope this was helpful! Let us know your experiences and opinions on this complex and important issue. Do you have any tips to add to our list? We would love the hear from you! Please share this article if you think someone you know could benefit from it, and stay tuned for our next tips.