Politics plus pandemic equals stress. Got 20 minutes? Here’s what might help.

November 02, 2020
Young woman wearing glasses has hand to her head as she looks at laptop computer.
Too much time doomscrolling can throw off your perspective.

Psychologist Chris Sege says the pandemic and politics have caused a shift in some of his patients’ chief concerns. “Whereas in the past, people might come in with specific issues related to family or something they're going through personally, or maybe they're trying to deal with depression or panic attacks, now a lot of those issues are being put on hold to talk about how to manage everything that's going on in the world.”

Dr. Chris Sege

They have plenty of company. A survey by the American Psychological Association found almost 70% called the presidential election a significant source of stress, compared to 52% in 2016. Another study linked increases in stress and depression to the coronavirus pandemic.

That doesn’t surprise Sege, an instructor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina. “I think people are stressed out in general about how we move forward, how we get back to kind of a healthy, happy nation that we maybe used to be. People are definitely very concerned about that now, more so than I've been aware of in the past.”

He has some advice to help people manage that stress.

1.     Unplug. 

Sege: One of the biggest things that's been difficult for people I've been working with is taking time for themselves. Unplug from things and don’t feel like you're taking an unnecessary risk doing that and don’t feel guilty doing that, either. It’s important to take a break from the news and social media.

2.     Accept that you can’t control everything.

Sege: One of the most stressful things about everything that's going on, coronavirus-wise, election-wise, is we're limited in how much we, as individuals, can control things. People are feeling like, “I have to make sure I'm doing everything I possibly can.” I'm seeing a lot of people who just don't stop, and then they're burning out.

3.     Give yourself credit for what you are doing.

Sege: Wearing a mask, helping family members who are dealing with things – you need to give yourself credit for that. Vote. A lot of times, people don’t notice the things they are doing and they’re focusing on what they aren’t.

4.     Set aside time to take care of yourself.

Sege: I would say 20 minutes is a decent benchmark for a minimum. It’s a little different from person to person. 

Go out for a walk, even if it’s a socially distanced one. Pay attention to what you’re doing, as opposed to thinking about everything that’s going on in the world. Notice the sounds and sights and be in the present moment. 

You can also try taking a few moments to take some deep breaths, slow your breathing down. And then you can get back to everything else.

5.     Have faith.

Sege: There's some uncertainty built into all of this stuff. Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do to change that. But realize that, at some point, we’re going to get through it. Dealing with COVID and other concerns, none of us really knows the answers. We don't know how the course of this is going to work itself out. 

But we have to still have hope and faith that it will work out at some point. I think people are doing all they can. Hopefully, we can trust that, eventually, that's going to pay off.

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