Politics can impact your brain and health, study says

Posted at 6:31 AM, Feb 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-11 06:31:49-05

(WXYZ) — Many of us want to be informed citizens, but can taking in too much political news take a toll on our health?

According to one recent study, politics can interfere with everything from our emotional stability to our physical well-being.

The study looked at survey responses from a group of 800 U.S. adults.

“It puts a strain on relationships and it puts a strain on the individual,” said Cleveland Clinic’s Joseph Rock, PsyD, who did not take part in the study. “A lot of people are saying that they find politics to be a significant source of stress; that it’s affecting their sleep, it’s affecting their relationships, and it’s affecting their family life.”

As many as 30 percent of the people surveyed said politics triggered feelings of anger, frustration, hate, guilt or led them to make comments they later regretted.

Dr. Rock said part of the problem is that we can’t get away from political news anymore.

And when we put a lot of focus on things over which we have no immediate control – it can be a recipe for mental distress.

Dr. Rock recommends taking breaks from politics and instead, focusing on the three things we can control - our thoughts, our decisions and our actions. He said the key is to give yourself permission to occasionally ‘check out’ of the news cycle.

“You need to pay attention to how you’re feeling, not just what you’re thinking,” said Dr. Rock. “You need to be a good, informed, citizen, but you don’t need to know every single thing that’s going on, because it’s just too much as assimilate, and it overwhelms us.”

Dr. Rock said people are generally poor at recognizing when politics have gotten in the way of their relationships. He said it’s easy to become convinced that we’re right, and when we get too wrapped up with what’s going on in our heads, we don’t see that other people might not agree with us.

“When it becomes a compulsion, when you feel like you have to do it, when you feel like you don’t have a choice, you’ve got to take a step back,” said Dr. Rock. “When you reach that point, you’re not doing what’s in your best interest; you’re doing what you think you’re supposed to do, and when you’re doing that you’re ignoring how you’re feeling, the impact it’s having on you and the impact it’s having on the people you care about.”

Complete results of the study can be found in PLOS ONE.