Elections can make us feel anxious, angry and mistrustful - emotions that are all detrimental to our happiness. Dr Laurie Santos talks to Niala Boodhoo from the news podcast Axios Today about the simple steps we can take to increase our wellbeing during stressful and uncertain times.
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listeners. This is doctor lorry centres. If you're like me, you might have found the last week to be a bit more stressful than usual, especially if you live in
us and care about politics. This polarized election has left many
feeling uncertain, frustrated and even anxious, but whenever I'm feeling bad, I reckon
nice their strategies from science that I can use in order to feel better and that's why I'm here?
to share a recent interview? I did as part of axioms today's election coverage. I got a chance
Tat, would nylon voodoo about how
you can use science to maintain our well being, even during these anxious times so check out her episode here and if you like what you hear, you should subscribe to ask you today, wherever you get here
cast it's a great way to get all the news you need in just ten minutes
and without all the doom swelling. So this is such
crazy time. I'm really looking forward to just sitting down with you in talking about all of this, and I just want to start by asking. How are you doing like how have you handled this week? I've been ok,
It has really been a week that I have to practise what we preach rating. I'm literally looking at the lists I give to my students of like ok, meditating, oh yeah exercise right right and I ve been really trying to get all those good habits in I was listening to back to some of,
You're older episodes- and I happened upon the New York episode where you talked about, are fresh start and our ability to feel like it's a fresh start because of the date. Do you think that's what's happening now? Yeah, I think,
I think a lot of people are had in their mind. You know pre election and post election right. What we would know when the new president got chosen right, and so I really think that's one of the things. That's frustrating
right now, as you and I are talking, we still don't know the answer to who is going to be our new president, and I think that's one of the things that's making
really uncertainties that we thought you know we'd wake up November forth in your fresh start,
things new, like you know we like know what's going on, but in practice that hasn't really happened, and so I think we're Orkut
delaying this fresh start, which we really wanted, and so that can feel really frustrating I think
The interesting thing is, as a journalist I was saying on the axis yesterday, podcast we were having conversations in access newsroom. This is probably not going to be determined on election night.
I will admit to you. I was saying that
kind of didn't totally believe it myself myself and you're nodding. Did you convincing yourself like I'm, going to go to bed and I'm not going to know the answer right? You know and I think that's one of the things we forget like our minds, hate uncertainty right, even if you give people to really good options
but they don't know which really good option they're going to get our brains like
to be in Waze. Is there a weird feeling afraid of something right, with literally activating fear, regions of our brain, even for two good things? It's just we're uncertain, and I think this is a case where
most of our country thinks
you know, one of the options is going to be really good and one of the options is going to be really bad and that activates our uncertainty in our fear and really extreme ways
just the not knowing even if the outcome might be good is, is really frizzling. It can really negatively affect our mental health, but I wonder if you could just speak to what happens to our brains. What happens to us when we are in this fear state when we are in this
extreme uncertainty which, to be honest, I think, even when this is announced, we're still gonna be in a period of uncertainty, yeah, I'm anything,
using a real question about what the transition of power will look like in this case, and I think this is a special
election and lots of ways railing. Never have we had a? U s election like this during a global pandemic right, you know. Never, probably have we been this polarized as it as a country right, but
worth, noting that most elections make people really afraid and anxious. If you look at the twenty sixteen last presidential election about fifty percent of people reported
feeling very afraid and very anxious, and that was like by partisan right. People on both sides were reporting that, and so I think that
Something to realize is like the elections in general or fear provoking this one is especially if you're provoking cuz, there's lots of scary stuff out there, and that has a hugely negative effect on our bodies right into our body
I fear evolution airily, so we can get away from predators right enough. There's a tiger about to jump out. Our body is ready to a kind of fight back or flee, both of which we do with kind of fear right, and that system, which is called the sympathetic
system in our body. It's not meant to be running long term. It's meant to like a tiger is going to pop out you run away. Are you fight fifty minutes later? It's all good right. It wasn't built for the twin
or a seven new cycle. You know it wasn't built for months and months of a pandemic and
is that a lot of us have been running this fight or flight system, much the detriment of our physical bodies for a really long time, and so I wonder if you can give us
bull attempts. What's on your list, what have you been doing this week to kind of deal that back right, and I think there are obvious things right with black look. This is why I say: listen to excess today gives you can listen for ten minutes and you don't have to have a sort of constant new cycle, but what else? What are other practical, important things? We should be doing to take care of yourself right now.
yeah. Well, one really obvious hack is just to shut off that sympathetic, nervous system, which it is obvious
best way to do is to shut off the threat shut. We can't do that in the case of the election. We can't do that in the case of covert, but there's a but there's a way. You can cause your body to shut off that system, and that's through your breath,
times when people are really upset. Someone might tell you take a deep breath. I think that something a lot of people have heard over the election cycle in the last week.
Can sound annoying. But actually people who are saying are tapping into something important, because the act of taking a really deep belly breath activate your Vegas nerve, which convinces your body
There's no tiger you're not running away right now, you must kick in the opposite system in our sympathetic nervous system, which is the rest indigestion,
now the thing we need to sleep, the thing we need
for our immune function are digestion, we can turn
on the simply by taking a few deep valley, breaths and so that some,
I've had to like rationally remind myself through the weak enough. I find myself you accident,
on twitter and seeing things that are really scary. It's like wait a minute, stop that for a second and take a few deep breaths and then take him
but to notice how you feel- and I bet you'll feel better and you do because you ve biologic,
we change whether your body thinks there's a threat right now, so thou in
has been really powerful. A second thing is,
remembering what you have control over. You know this kind of
she can feel like everything's out of control in I'm from Connecticut
not even a state that really is participating very much in the recounts and all these things like it can feel like I dont have a say and what you do have,
say and is how you react to things and that can be really powerful right. You
control, whether or not your dooms growing all the time, and you are constantly on twitter, you know you can
control whether you take a moment to breathe like these are all
that are under your control and simply just remembering that their stuff that you have agency in can can be incredibly powerful. Now
Another thing that happens or really stressed is that we sometimes forget that we have things that make
feel better right when times feel really
tough. We almost avoid those things it feels like you know. How should I get in a great yoga class when I don't know who? The next president is like no like go to the things that make you feel good and embrace those. Now it is okay.
In fact, you're going to be thinking better about the sorts of things that are happening. If you can be in a joyful state, there's evidence that people think more creatively. They problem solve better. If they're
screen, seeing some positivity in some joy. So it's almost your duty here, like a civic duty, to put yourself in a good stay at, and that requires going back to the basics. You know things like exercise, Europe.
A friend ray you get some sleep. Those basics become even more important in a tough time. The whole idea of this pandemic and the seller
it's very interesting that normally when there is a natural disaster, people come together and people help each other and
we may be. We have seen that during the pandemic, but I feel it is a country. This is not like the pandemic.
Should have been a unifying event for this country, which really I dont think has happened. Yet I think that's pie.
Why were all feeling so kind of fearful
an uncertain right now right? It's not funny to distrust people on the other side right, it's not fun to feel frustrated the actions of other people, and I think you know
we watch. They know the covert nineteen statistics go up and up and up it can be easy to be in the blame cycle right. It can be easy to say. Oh those people,
doing what they're supposed to do or those people are demanding too much
deletion right. We can
get in the cycle of blaming and that really doesn't feel good. One thing we
oh from all, the work and positive psychology is that human connection is what feels good
feel like you're, doing something nice for other people. That's what feels nice this! This polarization just feels awful. It feels like our whole country
is this curve mean family? Were nobody gets along at everybody's infighting? It's like what happened, but again this
a spot where you have some control not over the whole country, but over your own reactions right, you can be empathic to people who are a little bit frustrated by you can try to do something
perspective taking on why someone might see something a different way and that might not
would. We won't change your political views, but I can give you a little bit of patients in compassion for people on the other side. It we often think that's impossible, but the research shows that pudding
a little bit of effort can allow you to see eye to eye with some one that you really different beliefs from how we use
a lot about empathy, and I want to ask you about empathy, particularly when we think about the role of technology. How can I mean? How can we
to date that now, how can we use technology to increase our empathy?
Well, one thing to realise is that many of the ways we use technology right now, especially during the election, aren't
and the things that naturally Primeau empathy right like empathy comes from you in
time connection you know talking. You know you are talking oversee right now and I'm seeing your your facial expressions. You know you're watching me smile and things like that. Like that's. What builds up a connection, that's really hard to do over mode
of the technology we're using to communicate about the election. Things like Facebook and Twitter, don't just allow for that sort of thing. A second thing is that,
technology often is really short, but shortness isn't the best way to get a deep connection with someone you. Sometimes you really have to talk about, like you're, really rich.
he's really personal things, and that you know sometimes takes time. It takes some intention in some effort
and so I worry a little bit about how much technology is being used in these cases, because I feel like it's a real mechanism that psychologically speaking, can be driving us apart, not together. So we really have to think about how we can use technology to deepen connections is what you're saying, and I think there are lots of ways to do that.
You know I could pick up the phone and call a relative who has political beliefs that are a little bit different than me
in a rather than just seeing their post on Facebook that I'm, like. I hate that, and you know like scroll past or delete, or something like I could really try to connect in. One of the
is that science shows that that connection is possible is to read
We do some narrative sharing that again people don't change their political beliefs very easily.
But some work by researcher Josh Cala here at Yale shows that one way you can get people to to change their minds to have
of them share times in their life that they were affected by things.
The time that you are discriminated against or the time that you were kind are frustrated with the government are frustrated with regulation right like
As you share these kinds of things, people can connect with you and say: well, you know that thing.
You just shared what I feel discriminated against in this other case right, you know. That's. Why vote the way I do right, and so the ideas like hearing
people story, sharing people stories and realizing that you have common ground on a
snow matters that really affect people? Those can be
is that people think
change their mind on everything, but can see eye to eye in a way that we typically don't when we're just writing. One hundred and forty characters on twitter,
well, and maybe also the goal isn't to change people's minds right. Maybe the goal is just to reconnect with someone that you want to connect with, and I think that
important you know one of the things that happens as we kind of field disconnect
morally from other people or in terms of our beliefs, as we can stop seeing them as real humans.
Now we can stop seeing them as people with emotions, people that you are normal instincts not to harm someone. We don't have those anymore and and and that's the real danger of what could be happening. The progress of what could happen in our country right is that there is a possibility,
we so dont, like the other side, that we are willing to harm them, and in
one of our podcast episodes. I talked to psychologist Mina Chikara she's, a professor at Harvard, and she
Really studies these cases of shot Freud cases where even people within
families who have different political beliefs will actually know assault, kill one another and really be okay with harming one another and she's interested like how do you,
How do you shut off your normal human instinct to be like not to be horribly mean to someone and she finds it? You know with the with the wrong political moves, it's actually quite possible, and so the hope is that we need to bring empathy back. We need to bring
kinds of personal connections back, so we dont wind up down that awful path. One of the things you ve talked about in your podcast is that concept
temporal distancing. I wonder if you can explain that and if that's a really important thing is, we think about the uncertainty around not just the election, but the pandemic yeah.
So temporal distancing is just a strategy to sort of room.
yourself a little bit from the urgency of the situation right now. If it feels like, I need to know the answer to this election tonight. That is really anxiety provoking it feels like. I need the answer right now. It feels like it matters to me so much right now, but if I were to think
You know what is like next year, Lori going to think about this stuff. You know what is two thousand and twenty two Lori going to think about the pentatonic, the selection and so on
get some psychological distance right, nothing feel so urgent and my goal shift
want to like know the information or be right. I want everything to
work, I'll write like I want broader, more medical's. In that case you have same thing with the pandemic. You know
I think, about how we want to be talking to my grandkids about the pandemic.
I don't want to say you. I do scrolled.
nay and just like you know, couldn't function and everything I get off twitter. I couldn't get off twitter. It again, I want to say, like I hope, dry lagging. I try. I tried to do something good, like you,
found joy with my family. You want your future storied, a kind of be noble and that psychological distancing you can get just by re, framing things. You know so think about how you gonna think about the selection in April of twenty two,
like you're, going to feel totally different, and it's going to feel a lot calmer and the the great thing
being a human with a mind that can dissimulate the future. As we can
do that whenever right, you can plop yourself into future you whenever you need to and
that's a strategy. I've really been using a little bit. You know how this is going to feel a month from now. It's just not going to be as urgent as I think
or another strategy, is to take away the focus from the election. Sometimes, if you really care about politics, you might be like in aid
I'm just going to care as much as I do right now, but then remind
so hey what else is going to be gone in April, like oh, he going to be spraying on to clearing the house
be doing X, Y and Z. You can kind of take the focus out of this thing that feels
really big and really central right now. It might not feel that way all the time and in the future. How important do you think our languages and all we frame this
you know- and I always think about this. Obviously, as a journalist, I think about the language in which I'm framing something that's something we kind of obsess over, but I also wonder how much
that affects you know how much our language affects, how we're framing this situation. Yeah there's
of evidence to suggest that language has a lot of power and one of this
where it has a lot of power is actually to divide us right. You know if I refer to in a somewhat
a red, Sox fan or a Yankees fan, that's different than a person who
happens to like the Yankees right leg in one
case. I've really categorize people like were to supper groups and another
it's like. Oh, it just happens to be a thing about you. I mean that's just one example, but the point is that the words that we use really have power and they have
power to marshal parts of our brain that are really old school. Those emotional parts of our brain you know like if you talk about
stealing the election or doing something
unfair. Like these terms activate things
our brain, that are going to be really emotional and what read our everyday language is kind of an interesting thing to think about, just in our everyday conversations, how we're categorizing in framing people,
yeah, I think one thing to notice is that you, no more so than in any other election YO
we on social media can almost be like journalists right like we are broadcasting information, and so I think that that means that we need to be very careful about what we're putting out they're, both in terms of the language we use, but also in terms of the car
you know, we all think that the other side is sharing fake news and how dare they. But the evidence suggests that fake fake news is a bipartisan thing
Democrats are just as likely to share fake news as Republicans and vice versa, and so I think we need to be really careful recognizing that we have
role in what were putting out into the world, and we could make that positive. We can make that grateful. We can make that looking on the bright side
or we could contribute to the doom. That's out there to scroll through. Thank you so much for
taking the time to speak with us. I really appreciate it thanks so much for having me if you'd like to hear more of Nyla's work, do check out Axios today,
she'll bring you a ten minute burst of news every weekday morning so subscribe to Axios today, wherever you get your podcasts happiness, lab will be back
with two bonus holiday upsurge in December. Until then stay safe and stay,
Transcript generated on 2020-11-16.