Staying involved in politics is tough. It seems like there is a new controversy in the news every day, and campaigns now last for so long that as soon as one election ends, the next crop of candidates appears. The non-stop political news, coupled with social media’s ability to keep us constantly tuned into every discussion, leads many people to want to disengage.
Often, those who burn out are people who care deeply about politics ad try their hardest to stay informed about current events, says Kevin Arceneaux, a professor of political science at Temple University.
“People just get really stressed about all the negative news they read,” he says. “If you’re working too hard or doing something for too long, you actually come to dread it.”
If you find yourself dreading your news notifications, but feel guilty about not engaging in this particularly important moment in our democracy, you’re not alone. Just know that there are ways to be involved in directing the future of your country without burning out completely.
Take action where you live
When you’re faced with a seemingly never-ending bombardment of political news every day, you may feel helpless and uncertain about whether it’s even possible to make a difference. This, in turn, results in heightened levels of stress and anxiety, according to Brie Pierquet, a clinical social worker and therapist. You can counteract that by making an impact within your community.
Step away from the election vortex and volunteer for a cause you believe in, like a food pantry, nursing home, animal shelter, or environmental group. If you find there are local people in need who are being overlooked, you could lead the charge and organize a drive or event to benefit them. Or, if you’re passionate about a candidate, you could channel your energy into their campaign.
It’s much harder to feel hopeless when you’re actually talking to the people you’re helping.
Turn off social media notifications—or get off the apps completely
It’s no mystery that social media has drastically changed the way we interact with the news. Tuning in every day to a fresh stream of information and the constant public bickering that follows is a surefire way to stress yourself out.
“It’s not just watching two people yell at each other, but it’s potentially you getting in a fight with somebody on social media,” says Arceneaux. “That can heighten these negative emotions connected to politics.”
If your notifications are on, your phone is going to light up and buzz any time a news story drops, and you’re going to check to see what it says—there’s really no stopping it. Being on call all the time is exhausting, and it negatively affects your mental health, according to Pierquet.
Limiting the amount of time you spend on your apps is also a good idea. If you have an iPhone, you can go to Settings, Screen Time, and tap App Limits to get a notification when you’ve spent too much time scrolling. On the Android settings screen, you can go to Digital Wellbeing and Parental Control, and then Dashboard. Tap on the hourglass icon next to the name of an app to set a timer.
Get some exercise
Exercising is one of the best ways to manage stress. When your body moves, your brain releases endorphins that boost your mood and get you in a good headspace for the day ahead.
Pierquet suggests going for a run or doing some cardio outside when you feel stressed out or overwhelmed by current events. The exercise will help you lift your spirits, and will allow you to take valuable time to clear your head. If, however, you don’t feel safe going outside, you can always get a workout in at home, which will get your blood pumping from the safety of the indoors.
How you like to work out is up to you. Shop around on TikTok for a fitness instructor, sign up for an online workout class if you’re missing a sense of community in your exercise routine, download a fitness-tracking app or turn your favorite video game into a customized workout.
Take some time to reflect
Sometimes the most important thing to do when you’re feeling fear and anxiety, whether it’s related to politics or anything else, is to focus on the source of those feelings and determine whether or not you can control it, Pierquet says. Simply being able to identify that difference can be all it takes to curb the burnout. If that isn’t enough, you might need to dig a little deeper.
“This heightened political stress [may also be hitting] on nerves that are rooted in other places,” says Pierquet.
If there are other sources of stress in your life (work, relationships, or the pandemic, for example), hearing about the latest scandal on the campaign trail will only make that feeling stronger. If that is the case, Pierquet says finding a therapist is a great option for talking through those underlying stressors and coming up with solutions.
Reflecting doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down and thinking about these things. You could keep a journal and write down your thoughts and feelings when you’re overwhelmed. You could also turn to a friend or family member to have honest conversations about politics in a safe space. There are also many meditation apps that can help you clear your head.
Just stop consuming so much news
Really—you don’t need to. Important new stories are coming out constantly and sometimes it seems like that’s all anyone can talk about, but there are ways to stay up to date without spending all day doom-scrolling on social media or reading every single article from the publications you follow.
It is possible to overconsume news, and it’s easy to make it too central in your life, says Arceneaux. Instead of hunting for stories every day or reading each one that pops up on your lock screen, you can sign up for a daily email newsletter from one (or a few) of your favorite publications—like us! That way, you can read only the most important updates from a source you trust. You could also turn to more analog sources and just—gasp—read the newspaper.
It might take some time to figure out the best alternative way to get your news, but a little trial and error will go a long way. You don’t need to figure it all out immediately.
“Having political discussions is important, but it’s also okay to manage how much time we’re spending on that,” says Pierquet. “There’s a certain amount of privilege that comes with not engaging in it, but we want to pace ourselves, too.”