We’re all snowflakes, and pretending we’re not just makes things worse. That’s the message of a recent study: that the key to not letting politics ruin your life lies in recognizing that politics is upsetting you.
Psychologists found that experiencing negative emotions in response to social issues increases political engagement, but it also worsens our mental health. Reliable coping strategies like reappraisal, distraction, and suppression do a great job of reducing our negative emotions, but they come at a cost: once we’ve dealt with our distress, we’re less likely to take political action.
That’s no good in a democracy. There’s a good chance the reason we’re dealing with increasing polarization is because the people who are best at regulating their emotions have regulated themselves into low political activity, while the people who are worst at regulating their emotions are more motivated to secure congressional seats and lucrative cable news contracts.
Only one of the four methods discussed in the study seems to reduce our distress without making us less politically engaged: acceptance. By fully accepting how a bad situation makes us feel, we can actually feel better about it—and still work to fix it.
There is some evidence that acceptance may also be helpful in dealing with trauma. Vicarious trauma, like what many of my friends are experiencing right now after watching the video of Tyre Nichols’ murder, is very real and more manageable to deal with if it’s not minimized or denied (also, please don’t share the video on social media unless you’re sure it’s the right thing to do in your case).
If we acknowledge that caring about the world around us doesn’t make us weak—that it makes us more human—that will make us stronger without taking away our motivation to confront injustice. In a culture that both condemns our sensitivity and monetizes our distress, this can be hard. But there is a growing body of evidence that suggests it’s worth the effort.