5 Things You Can Do When Not Gawking at the Political Train Wreck

It is not your imagination. Since November, you have been held mentally captive by the American Horror Story that is taking place in Washington, D.C. Just as we do when passing wreckage mangled in the intersection, we try (hard) not to look but we cannot help ourselves. The quick peek becomes an outright staring contest.

More destruction equates to more rubbernecking.

This phenomenon has now made its way into our living rooms, offices and bars as we gawk with mouths gaping at the depressing drip, drip, drip of yet another appalling news cycle. You (and I) may insist we are merely trying to be informed or “woke” but this is all just the first leg of a four-year exercise in dark tourism.

Can we hop off this morbid tour bus for just a moment though? Really, this can’t be good for our mental health in the long run. Instead, let’s take a look at five things we can do to relieve stress and get our mind (and eyes) off of the spectacle we call American politics.

Focus on Your Third Eye

Meditation, prayer, mindfulness, deep breathing. Despite what form it takes, these techniques have been proven to be very effective for relieving stress and reducing illness. When a team of Harvard researchers studied a relaxation program that incorporated meditation, yoga, and mindfulness, they found the participants used 43% less medical services than the year prior. Similar research showed participants with a reduction in pain, stress and improved sleep. And who doesn’t want to get a full night’s sleep after spending the day following tweets about Congress’ repeal of Obamacare? Find a local class, spiritual center or even easier, download an app such as Insight Timer or Headspace for some guided meditation on your phone.

Get in Touch with Nature

Henry Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of wildness…” I know the CNN panelists can bark at each other like a wild pack of dogs at times but today I am suggesting a Cheryl Strayed or Thoreau type of wild. Visiting nature does not require a long drive to a national park or camp site. For those of us who live in more urban centers, a stroll in the park or a walk with your dog can help you disconnect from the digital noise. If you are in a garden or on the beach, take off your shoes and practice a little “earthing”. Connecting the bare soles of your feet to the earth allows the ground’s negative charge to neutralize your energy. Before you write this practice off as New Age hippy dippy stuff, there is legitimate research reported in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health about the positive effects. Some of the ailments relieved by earthing include inflammation, pain and cardiovascular disease. So kick off your shoes, tiptoe through the tulips and soak up the good vibrations.

Tap into the Creative

When I feel the stress of the daily grind taking its toll, I grab my camera and spend an afternoon taking pictures of flowers, clouds or other pretty things. Photography and writing are two creative outlets that allow me to take a break from reality and enter another dimension. This is not a surprise to anyone familiar with art therapy. The ability to focus on the creative activity helps distract from any stressful thoughts. Research has even confirmed that participating in creating art can lower levels of cortisol and since this is the hormone that causes belly fat, we should all head for our nearest pottery class. Maybe a drum circle or guitar lessons will be just the creative boost you need to drown out the worries in your head.

Donate your Time

As someone who has been a part of the non-profit sector for over a decade, I have a bias when I tell people they should volunteer for a local charity. I have witnessed how important volunteers are to organizations since they almost always are in need of help. But that being said, there is a load of feel good stuff to be gained by the person volunteering as well. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that not only can you connect with others and transform communities, but volunteers also have “lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and depression.” Sounds like a good time to think about an issue you care about (besides politics) and do a little digging on the Idealist site to find a volunteer opportunity. There may be an animal rescue, mentor program or coastal cleanup day with your name on it.

Improve Yourself

It’s never too late to dust off those New Year’s resolutions. Were there some promises you made to yourself that disappeared in the midst of Presidential transitions, inaugurations and crowd sizes? There is always room for self-improvement. Some of the countless hours you spend debating people on social media can be used to become your best self. Make an appointment for a wellness exam. Meet your Fitbit goals by tackling a local walking trail. Create a plan to pay down your highest interest credit card. Go to your local bookstore and pick up a self-help book. Maybe you will find something inspirational by Brene Brown, Stephen Covey or the Dalai Lama. Just thinking about spending time in a bookstore makes me breathe a little easier.

What are some things you do to take your mind off of the state of the world? Share it in the comments.