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UW Health Psychologist: Many Suffering from Political Stress

Mental health professionals say people can be stressed out by the toxic political atmosphere. (xavigm/
Mental health professionals say people can be stressed out by the toxic political atmosphere. (xavigm/
March 27, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – The United States is experiencing a wide political divide and Wisconsin is one of the most politically divided states in the nation.

On the national scene, the long presidential campaign, so-called alternative facts and constant political wrangling now are part of the daily news.

In Wisconsin, years of political turmoil beginning with the passage of Act 10, the recall election and the rural-urban divide are taking a psychological toll on Wisconsinites.

Shilagh Mirgain, a senior psychologist with UW Health, says she sees this in her practice.

"The American Psychological Association actually last month came out with a study that found that more than half of Americans – 57 percent – say that the current political climate is a really significant source of stress these days, and that's across party lines," she states.

Mirgain says one of the simplest ways to reduce political stress is obviously to limit consumption of media, but she says learning techniques of self-soothing and how to channel stress into positive energy are ways to deal with it.

Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other problems, so Mirgain counsels against ignoring it if political stress is affecting you.

While it isn't practical for most people to simply eliminate consumption of media, which comes in so many different forms today, it's best to limit media consumption.

"Figuring out what is the best format, as well as what time of day,” she urges. “I've had people listen to media right before bedtime and finding that they're having difficulty sleeping.

“So figuring out how can you stay informed in a way that's really beneficial to you and isn't leading to excess stress."

Often, media portray political issues in black and white, and politicians hold rigid beliefs, fostering an "if you're not for this, you're against it" attitude rather than listening to the other point of view and working toward a compromise.

Mirgain says arguing politics with friends or family members often is dangerous.

"Don't talk politics with people when you know it's going to escalate,” she stresses. “You're not going to be able to convince somebody of your viewpoint, or they won't be able to convince you of theirs, and it will just lead to unnecessary tension and disagreement, so best to stick with safer topics."

Mirgain says if stress is getting to you and you can't deal with it, seek professional help.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI