For many Americans, it has been difficult to take a deep breath given the nations political climate. Truth be told, stress from politics can take a significant toll on mental and physical health. A recent study conducted by The American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that the recent presidential outcome offered little relief to Americans given the ongoing trauma from the pandemic and the previous administration.
One of the findings from the report highlighted, “Following the 2020 election, 81% of Americans point to the future of our nation as a significant source of stress. For comparison, only 66% said the same in January 2017. Stress about the future is high across party affiliation. More than 8 in 10 Democrats (83%), Republicans (83%), and independents (80%) say the future of our nation is a significant source of stress. When looking at the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, 71% of Americans say it’s a significant source of stress, compared with 49% who said the same in 2017.”
In addition to APA’s report, conversations about America’s overall health are being held as a way to promote wellness. Most recently, The American Heart Association partnered with elected officials, medical professionals, and leading executives from various industries to discuss how stress caused by the election, racial injustice, and COVID-19 can impact people’s cardiovascular health and ways to preserve heart health during the political shift.
Dr. Katherine Y. Brown, Assistant Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine at Meharry College of Medicine who is a volunteer expert for American Heart Association’s EmPOWERED to Serve; Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, and Amy DuBois Barnett, Senior Vice President and General Manager of BET Digital are helping to spread awareness.
Each of the leaders has a different message that together promotes well-being in the current political climate. Dr. Brown’s is one of health and wellness while Congresswoman Beatty’s is a political charge to keep individuals empowered as they vote daily. And Barnett’s promotes workplace wellbeing as professionals set out to accomplish goals during uncertain times.
Staying On Top of Your Heart Health
Although shelter in place mandates have made it difficult for some to get outdoors and remain active, the American Heart Association recommends daily exercise as a way to cope with stress.
“A good way to stay active is to get others involved. Take a walk after dinner with family members you’re sheltering with. Or, schedule a Zoom dance party with distant family and friends. This is a great way to improve your mood, too. The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of exercise every week. That can be tough under the current circumstances, but you can also break up your activity throughout the day,” said Dr. Brown.
Congresswoman Beatty uses Zoom to spend quality time with loved ones to destress.
“It allows me to stay in contact with them [her family], to see them, and feel [get a sense] that they’re in good health,” said Congresswoman Beatty. One of the moments that warmed her heart was her granddaughter Leah’s virtual dance recital. “It gave me a moment of joy and it took my mind off of the political stress.”
With double-digit numbers of members of congress having tested positive for COVID-19 and the daily duties of being a U.S. Representative, Congresswoman Beatty has prioritized listening to her body. And, she encourages others to do the same.
“Take time for yourself. But most importantly, listen to your body. If your body tells you that you’re tired. Stop. Don’t find other clever ways to cope like having a cup of coffee or pushing yourself. It is so important to listen to your body,” said Congresswoman Beatty.
With many Americans having experienced job and insurance loss due to the financial impact of the pandemic – and longer than usual appointment scheduling, it is important to stay on top of your heart health.
“For regular wellness visits, it’s important to be patient. You can also ask about scheduling a virtual visit if you have concerns about going into a doctor’s office. However, heart attacks and strokes are still happening, and many people are not seeking care for these medical emergencies. The American Heart Association took action in the early days of the pandemic to combat this alarming trend by launching a campaign called, ‘Don’t Die of Doubt.’ It reminds everyone hospitals are safe places to be, and the right places to be if you have an emergency. Calling 9-1-1 is still the best thing to do,” said Dr. Brown.
Setting Boundaries To Promote Well-being
In addition to staying on top of your heart health, it is imperative to set boundaries in all settings. Be it at home, in the workplace, or with your news consumption. As an executive in the media industry, Barnett shared that eating well, having healthy sleep habits, and remaining grateful is helping her practice self-preservation as she manages the demands of leadership during this time.
When it comes to workplace politics, Barnett said an important question to ask yourself is, “What is the win?” From there, you’ll be able to gauge whether or not having a conversation about politics is worth it.
“At the end of the day, if you’re not going to be impactful to a community you care about or to people you really care about, then what is the win?” said Barnett. She went on to share that the stress of those types of conversations just might not be worthwhile.
Congresswoman Beatty offered Vice President Harris’ election as a positive reminder that women can lead with excellence – no matter the difficulty.
“We, as women, have to continue to stand firm in our convictions and our principles. Some of us do louder it than others. Now that we have the privilege of witnessing what it looks like for a woman and a Black [and southeast Asian] woman to serve as our nation’s Vice President – that gives many women, confidence, courage, and comfort in the ability to know that women can have strong varying views and successful patterns of engagement with colleagues.”
As people seek to stay informed, it is also key to set boundaries around how much information and what kind of information is being consumed. Especially given the impact the political and social climate can have on someone’s well-being.
“A healthy consumption depends on who you are and what you need,” said Barnett. “Some people need to be in the conversation every day. Maybe that’s healthy for them. Maybe it’s healthy to fire off a salty response to whatever politician they disagree with at that particular moment on Twitter. That that could be the case. For other people, it might be healthier to establish days, hours, or weeks where they don’t turn on any news at all.”
Everything Is Political
As people eagerly await political change and feeling safe, Congresswoman Beatty shared that it is imperative to know that we vote in many ways. And, each way matters. Whether it’s at the ballot, on the frontlines, or with your dollars.“I think that we want to be hopeful for change, but we also see the disparities in treatment,” said Congresswoman Beatty.
When it comes to COVID-19 and social injustices, she shared that the consequences of lack of research, funding, and services that are provided for some, and not provided for others give people valid reasons to not feel safe as Americans. “As it relates to Black America, many of us have reasons to feel unsafe. Because we know that there’s still systemic racism and culturally biased policies. Some of those policies enacted by our government in areas that have authority over our community,” she added.
One of the daily actions that people can take to feel safer in this country, both politically and personally that Congresswoman Beatty shared is to freely express themselves.
“I think it is healthy and good to participate in positive movements that demand change like what we saw when women, Black, white and brown out there wearing pink hats for health care. We saw students marching to keep our community safe from violence against gun actions. We’ve seen people protest and say, ‘Take your knee off our neck.’ Or, ‘I can’t breathe,’ in honor of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Casey Goodson, and Andre Hill. Those are the things that make people want to be more hopeful.”
She went on to share that everyone has to be a part of the change.
“We have to speak up. We have to make sure that we’re engaged. For me, the bottom line is engagement voting in every election, asking for accountability, and transparency. That’s not just engagement and voting in what we quote-unquote call our political elections. There’s politics in the community, in the school, and the church. We vote in so many ways daily.”
As Americans re-calibrate politically, health and wellbeing are top of mind for people. But with all change, it begins within.
For more information on how to manage your heart health and balance your lifestyle during the political shift, click here.