Keeping your mental health during political turmoil – Part Two

*This text was written in partnership with Melissa Marsden, M.Ed. and Change Facilitator in the UK

Continuing Part One, with this text we try to bring some more thoughts and practical suggestions for you to keep your mental health during these political tensions in Brazil but not only. Recent political events worldwide call our attention as ‘global citizens’: along with the rapid transformation of journalism and communication, turmoil in different parts of the world influence greatly what happens in apparently unconnected local contexts. An example is Trump’s election in the USA, which was largely discussed in the Brazilian Media and appears to be having an important influence on the polls for the latest presidency run in Brazil.

Avenue of the Allies: Brazil, Belgium (1918) by Frederick Childe Hassam

Professor Antonio Casilli (EHESS, Paris) is optimistic regarding the potential of the Internet to engage people in their communities’ needs and problems for its accessibility. After all, the tools offered by the web are more interactive than traditional forms of communication and allows anyone who is so inclined to become an author and content creator, broadcasting their opinions to the world. On the other hand, Professor Sherry Turkle, who has been studying the potential of the Internet to change human relationships since the 1990s and is usually enthusiastic about technologies and the social interaction promoted through it is now showing some concerns. She has pointed out that social media is being used as means of avoiding loneliness, leading many to become addicted to the illusion of being accompanied, when in fact there rarely are any meaningful connections to other human beings taking place. Turkle adds that anonymous avatars are often used in such cases, a situation that she has conceptualized as ‘fragile selves’, where people become less empathetic and open to having deep and relevant conversations. Especially regarding politics, one can observe some people avoiding open debates and using the Internet as a way to spill their intense feelings, not caring as much to others’ feelings.

Hence, aware of these controversial aspects of online communication we have some suggestions for you to preserve your mental health and well-being while being connected:

  • Avoid discussing with anonymous avatars online. As reflections of their fragile selves, some people make use of anonymous avatars to provoke anger and extreme reactions in other people, like a mirror for their own dissatisfaction and loneliness.
  • Carefully select the platforms, websites, online channels etc in which you will navigate. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. Not all social media network is the same, nor are the communities they create and the tools they offer. You do not need to abandon social media altogether, but being more selective and investing your time in those platforms that overall add more than it takes is recommended if tensions are high.
  • Find a way to gain your counterpart’s respect and make them see things from a different perspective. If your fears are related to an increase in anti-democratic discourse and social movements, is worth remembering that many of those seduced by authoritarian speech are also scared of something that seems terrible for them. This means that despite the challenges of communication, we are more alike than our initial impressions might indicate. Therefore, in some circumstances, you’ll do better expressing your feelings and fears clearly rather than accusing or judging people as they were directly responsible for your emotions. You can start gaining your counterpart’s respect showing you are equally sensitive to the current political turmoils but do not expect solutions from autocratic leaders. In this way you invite them to experience ‘your shoes’, reinforcing empathy and the sense of democracy as a great value.
  • Avoid being monothematic. You should always attempt to navigate some virtual spaces where political debate is unlikely to take place. These could be, for example, related to a hobby such as cooking or cycling. Professor David Servan Shraiber teaches us that to have cardiac coherence and consequently to improve your mental health, we need to exercise the richness of emotional variability, being stimulated by diverse contents and interactions.

Finally, we would like to highlight that it is normal to feel somewhat hopeless in times like this but try to not paralyze. Accept your feelings and experiences as valuable and engage in momentous conversations with people with whom you identify politically and those you do not but with which conversation can be reasonable and informative. If you self-identify as a member of a social minority group, doing so is even more important. It is very common for us to feel isolated in times of great turmoil. We can guarantee that you are not! All you need to do is look in the right places and engage in productive action. We hope this article resonates with this! Please let us know your actual experiences and give us your tips.

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