At a series of lunches and dinners during the recent holiday season, I realised how fraught our lives have become with the ferociousness of politics. Our worlds are spinning askew in highly charged atmospheres, be it London, New York, Mumbai or Rio. Distinct lines have been drawn; defined boundaries are suddenly here to stay. When political drama and economic uncertainty unite to make us feel helpless and anxious, we find that we must strive doubly hard to maintain our cool. To prevent us from dropping dead of a stroke or a heart attack in the midst of a vigorous and heated discussion.
I know of people who cannot eat or sleep until they have effectively countered friends and relatives on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I have heard of others who spend every waking hour checking their smart phones, trying to ascertain exactly what country X’s leader is up to, only to collapse in anger and frustration if he opts for a policy that goes contrary to their opinions and beliefs. Some even troll complete strangers doggedly on the internet. But while it is an extremely positive sentiment to become fired up and passionate about your country and the people who govern it, as well as to concern yourself with the environment and climate change, we must prevent such stress and gravitas from impinging negatively on our mental and physical health.
Psychologists point to the following warning signs of a tension-filled disposition.
Changes in eating habits
Variations in sleep patterns
Finding yourself extremely irritable or easily angered
Regular and perturbing thoughts of bad consequences
Not being able to sit still, unable to stay calm or be at peace
Lacking the capacity to concentrate on what you are doing
Avoiding people who are alien to your way of thinking
Altering our personalities and habits
Such triggers also stoke depression. They envelop us in a garrison-like stronghold and permanently affect our relationships with others. We become less tolerant of people who disagree with us even as we tend to blow much discussion out of proportion. The worst situation occurs when a family nucleus produces hardened positions on opposite sides of the spectrum, with members accusing each other of being bigoted. Each and every political conversation appears to ignite a major conflagration, comprising point and counter-point, fuelling anger and animosity. It converts into a violent indoor version of road rage!
How do we bring temperatures down? How do we avoid shredding the hitherto relaxed social fabric we have been accustomed to? To dissipate the negativity and thwart the pessimism that appears to ensconce us, we need to call for a Time Out. Our health and mental strength are far more important. Psychologists offer stress-busting techniques to prevent venom-filled politics from sabotaging the happiness and tranquillity that should be our goal in life:
Practice relaxation techniques: the AUM chant is a wonderful pacifier; it expunges all negative vibes and deleterious energies within our system.
Learn mindful breathing, dispense with the shallow choked-up breath. Hunker down deep into the depths of your diaphragm.
Count to ten before reacting or speaking.
Exercise to burn off the anger. Take a long walk or side-step the vitiated area. Excuse yourself from the dinner table and retreat to the porch, balcony or bathroom.
Avoid more than one alcoholic drink. In the short term it takes the pressure off, but drinking loosens your tongue and fosters vitriolic responses.
Change the conversation. Crack a joke, laugh at something silly, lighten up the ambience.
Talk out your fears and anger with those you trust. Channel your energy into good deeds instead of sitting day and night before the TV plugging into blow by blow news accounts which only serve to unsettle.
Repeat to yourself, litany-like: No one can change another’s way of thinking, so why bother…
Vow not to get angry. Move to a stratosphere of stoic indifference which permits all pessimism to slough off your mind and soul.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you will outlive any political and economic crisis.
And begin to enjoy the New Year and the New Decade!