Tips to reduce stress, anxiety as nation copes with political division, Capitol riot, COVID-19

ByABC 7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Monday, January 18, 2021
Tips to reduce stress, anxiety as nation copes with current events
Tips to help reduce stress and anxiety that may be brought on from taking in too much news on current events such as political division, the Capitol riot and COVID-19.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The looming fear of more violent riots leading up to Inauguration Day, on top of COVID-19 concerns, can take a toll on your mental health.

The nation and the world all saw what took place in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, and now with federal and state officials taking precautions at all 50 state Capitols, the anticipation can be stressful.

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"Research studies that show that news events can result in real trauma, where watching the news constantly that repeated exclusive videos, in and of itself can almost mimic what it's like to go through a real-life, traumatic event," said Dr. Aderonke Pederson.

Dr. Pederson is an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She said three-quarters of Americans said the future of the country in the political climate was a significant source of stress.

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"I think it's so important that in the midst of all of this stress and anxiety that we're watching on the news that we're taking care of ourselves," she said. "We're thinking about what we can control and what we can't control."

She said one thing we can control, at least to some extent, is self-care, so she has offered some tips on how to help manage the stress.

Tips to avoid stress from current events:

  • Avoid constant news input. Dr. Pederson said our brains can only take so much;
  • Make sure you're doing activates like exercising and giving your body physical energy;
  • Journaling is a good way to write down your thoughts so you don't keep them all inside;
  • Connect with family and friends. This is a great distraction that is sure to lift your spirit.
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    Dr. Pederson said increased stress can increase anxiety, which might make us more vulnerable to physical health issues as well chronic health conditions like heart disease or diabetes.

    "I'm telling my patients this; I'm telling my family members this, that the one thing that we can't lose sight of is the fact that we have to take care of our bodies," she said, "because that's the only way we can be useful to ourselves and to our communities."

    The coronavirus pandemic compounded with the current events can drastically impact mental health, Dr. Pederson said.

    RELATED: Health expert offers tips to manage COVID-19 anxiety

    Consumer Reports says one easy and free way to feel better is to simply open your door and step out into nature.

    "So while it is true that we're encouraging people to stay physically distant from each other and to continue to wear their masks and continue to be safe. We're not encouraging people to be emotionally isolated," she said. "The minute you become emotionally isolated for me that's a red flag as a psychiatrist because we need each other, we're interdependent. We function as a community and that's what we are and COVID-19 has challenged our ability to function as a community to support each other in the ways that we're used to."

    She recommends physically picking up the phone and having a conversation with someone, as opposed to just texting to try and stay in touch with family and friends.

    On the other side of the spectrum, Dr. Pederson also said constantly being at home while working or with kids adds to the stress. She said to find some time to get creative with ways to unplug.

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    "Do something that you find enjoyable to you," she said. "Go hiking just by yourself, just to kind of hear your own thoughts, because with kids around it's hard to kind of pause and relax and rest."

    Ultimately, she said we should all be watching out for signs of depression and anxiety. Some of those signs include:

  • Insomnia;
  • Difficulty sleeping;
  • Fatigue;
  • Low energy
  • "I think knowing what the signs are so that when we experience it, that we are able to pay attention and do so, and take steps; or when we see our family members experiencing it, and approaching our family members or our friends in a non-judgmental way, and making sure we know you know what resources are out there sometimes we might need to engage in formal resources like seeing a therapist or making an appointment with a psychiatrist," Dr. Pederson said.

    She said she hopes to do away with the stigma of mental health so everyone can put themselves first, and make it accessible for others to reach out and get help if they need it.

    The video featured is from a previous report.