There’s no sugarcoating it: 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year. It has been so crazy that we’ve all but forgotten that World War 3 seemed on the verge of erupting in January. For those of us with mental health concerns, we have had to develop a whole new toolkit of coping techniques.
Right now, it is racial and political tensions that are flaring. And no matter your background or views, you are almost guaranteed to get into a few heated political debates. I don’t need to tell you that these debates don’t usually end harmoniously. You might call someone racist or be called racist. You might consider breaking off all communication with people you love. You could even lose yourself responding to Tweets and Facebook posts.
If you already suffer from mental illness, political debates can take a heavy toll on you. Your loved ones should be part of your mental health support system, not your opponents. But choosing not to engage can feel like a betrayal of yourself and people you care for. Is there a way to do so without harming your mental well-being?
The good news is that you can engage in political discussions in a mentally healthy way. It will not be easy, but you can learn a lot about empathy and even broaden your worldview.
Disengage from social media
Social media can be a great way to show your support for a cause. Doing so can give you the peace of mind of having acted according to your values. However, that is where it should end.
It’s no secret that social media can be bad for your mental health. One reason is that social media discussions can destroy relationships and harm your self-esteem. The buffer of a screen gives people the courage to say things in aggressive and even abusive ways.
The most innocuous tweet can devolve into a hateful and destructive shouting match. This is not only bad for your relationships and mental health, but you can find yourself saying something in the heat of the moment that you don’t really mean, damaging your reputation and your own self-esteem.
The best approach is to spend as little time on social media as possible. And whatever you do, do not get into social media arguments.
Before you get into political discussions, it is healthy to spend some time introspecting. Try and identify what certain statements trigger in you. Some statements might make you feel not just invisible, but erased. A person’s dismissal of what may be part of your very identity is incredibly hurtful and bad for your mental health.
Other statements may trigger righteous anger, making you feel anxious and disheartened about the state of the world. Still others may spark fear in you about the stability of society.
Whatever it is you identify in yourself, spend significant time validating your own experience. Remember that you don’t need anyone else to identify with you in order to feel whole within yourself.
This will help in a number of ways. Firstly, it will allow you to begin to see other people’s opinions without feeling overly threatened by them. You may still find their statements reprehensible, but you might be able to keep from reacting in a way that only harms you.
Secondly, it helps you to refrain from writing the other person off. You can begin to see that their anger is based on their own fear, insecurities, and hurt. Your own hurt does not negate their experience, and vice versa.
Disengage from shouting matches
Inevitably, no matter how hard you try, some conversations will devolve into shouting matches. When you hear the other person raising their voice, or hear yourself raising yours, consider disengaging. Otherwise, it will almost always take a toll on your mental health.
Disengage in a way that doesn’t feel like a betrayal of your values. Tell them that you are not willing to engage in a debate this way. Acknowledge that you are getting caught up in your own anger. Be clear that you are not conceding your point, but that you simply don’t think continuing shouting will do anything but harm.
Admit your wrongs
Chances are you will find that, at least once in a while, you have gotten something wrong. Maybe you have even hurt someone while caught up in your own anger. This can make you feel really guilty and ashamed. Trying to get rid of this guilt and shame can damage your mental health.
Your instinct may be to avoid talking to the person for a while. Rather, admit to them that you were wrong and apologize for hurting them. This will make you feel so much better about yourself, and they will respect you for it. You might even end up improving your relationship, even as you disagree about other things.
Don’t chase lost causes
Finally, try and recognize when a conversation is just not worth continuing. Some people are never going to change their opinions or engage in open discussion. Spending endless time and emotional energy arguing will only harm your mental health.
Sometimes, walking away from a discussion is the best way to preserve your self-respect and maintain your mental well-being.
Throughout, be kind to yourself. You don’t need to have all the right answers, and getting things wrong is part of the human experience. And if your mental health is deteriorating, disengage and give yourself time to recuperate.