Is “unplugging” the right way to handle political anxiety?

The American presidential election has infused an apocalyptic energy in the political discourse that has enraged, confused, and divided the general public. To say this is overwhelming is an understatement. From the first Republican debate to the President-Elect’s latest tweet, people all over the United States and the world have become enthralled by the drama that now characterizes the nation’s political stage.

American politics is the new hit reality TV show: we follow every quip and jab made by a public figure and respond to each with ardent conversation, disbelief, indignation, and bemusement. Perhaps the only difference between our politics now and Keeping Up With the Kardashians is that the words and actions of prominent characters in American politics have repercussions on the real world, while those of the Kardashians may at most affect the number of Instagram likes their next post receives.

Political fame can be dangerous, for ndividuals wield power through their general comportment, not just through their instituted policies. Certainly, the bills a homophobe, racist, sexist, or other kind of zealot signs can lead to further marginalization of minority groups, allowing the bureaucracy to serve as a vehicle of oppression, but their loaded rhetoric is a far more destructive weapon. It thunders through the media, infiltrating impressionable minds with bigoted beliefs that ultimately fragment a community by pinning groups against each other.

The spite and bitterness that this phenomenon elucidates simply breeds more exasperation and anger—emotions for which people do not have much of a tolerance. Fed up, some individuals may decide to isolate themselves from political discourse and associated current events, with the purpose of cleansing themselves of the negative energy that these conversations instill, whether they be on the Internet, with their peers, or on TV. Clearly annoyed, thinking that having such discussions is like beating a dead horse, they roll their eyes with a sigh and wave away any blip of politics in sight or earshot.

But we live on a hill that is well-read and outspoken, a combination that makes avoiding political conversations nearly impossible. You’ll overhear people in the Spa, your friends will bring it up, it’ll plague your Facebook feed. Unplugging from the political conversation requires unplugging from the modern reality, and being blind to reality generates more ignorance, which fuels the very issues that are silencing you, that are driving you nuts.

Unplugging does not prevent anxiety. You can opt to listen or you can opt to cover your ears and shout “La, la, la” until the conversation shifts to a more manageable topic, but either way you are recognizing that there is an issue—one that apathy will not solve. Ignoring it simply compartmentalizes it, sends it to the back of your mind to simmer and to eat at you ever so slowly because you are not taking action to counteract your woes. Unplugging generates the very ignorance that is causing you problems. Unplugging chips away at the resistance against bigotry and hatred.

The only way to reduce the anxiety caused by our current political predicament is through knowledge, awareness, and involvement. Truly understanding why things are happening–and managing to perceive them from an unbiased and nuanced perspective–will allow individuals to see the root of the problem more clearly, and perhaps devise an approach to solve it, without being fueled by anger or partisanship.

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