Breathe in, breathe out: Dealing with election stress online

4:08 pm on 11 October 2017

Our audience appears to be flip flopping between finding New Zealand's lack of government funny and finding it extremely unfunny.

stressed woman

stressed woman Photo: 123RF

"Lol," readers summarise, when sharing posts about Winston Peters' revelation that he might not announce a government on Thursday after all.

On RNZ's topical comedy show, 4Cast, one comedian said the election had been a bit like a game of Monopoly:

"It started fun and it was really interesting and it could have gone any way. But now it's just like... everyone's tired and only one person's having any fun."

Or as a commenter put it, at the end of some frustrated remarks on one of our Facebook stories: "Sorry, I'm on holiday at the moment and a little bit tipsy."

We understand. News is exciting, but there are moments when we, too, feel like ejecting ourselves screaming into the sun.

We've definitely noticed it in the comment threads on our Facebook page: people are feeling a bit on edge, and a constant stream of incoming news alerts to your phone might not be helping. Next time you're feeling stressed, here are our tips to help you feel calm online.

Enlist the bots

Twitter bots are accounts set up on the social media platform to automatically post tweets at particular intervals, and I follow two that - no matter what news has happened that day - always make me pause to laugh while sucking a motherlode of stressful stories straight into my bloodstream.

One is Tiny Care Bot, which sends you prescient reminders like, "Please remember to take a second to drink some water."

Sage advice.

Sage advice. Photo: Screenshot from Twitter

The other is an account featuring a picture of the Edvard Munch painting The Scream, just doing screams of various lengths.

Fair.

Fair. Photo: Screenshot from Twitter

This doesn't sound very relaxing, but when the bot posts a screaming tweet right next to the latest Donald Trump missive, or one of my friends trying to open a jar, the effect can be very funny.

Use online relaxation tools

During the 2016 presidential election, this gif was circulating online as something to sync your breathing to if you were feeling stressed. By the end of the night, it was all over my newsfeed.

Attention, every journalist in the Press Gallery.

Attention, every journalist in the Press Gallery. Photo: Imgur

There are lots of meditation tools available for free online too. If you want a video to help you imagine yourself on a beach, in a rainforest, or having your hair shampooed (yup, weird, but it's a thing), Youtube has you covered.

Get away from politics

There is so much to see and do on the internet, and heaps of it isn't about politics, ISIS, or Harvey Weinstein!

RNZ's archives are a great place to start. Pick a favourite topic - happiness, perhaps, or parenting or the solar system, and search it on our site. You'll find fascinating interviews to keep you occupied for weeks if need be (but it's not going to take weeks. Is it, Mr Peters?)

You can also search favourite ingredients and the word "recipe" to find instructions for making a new dish, contributed by dozens of chefs over about a decade.

If that still feels like too much thinking, you know what's great? Tiny monkeys. Sometimes they eat blueberries. Sometimes they take baths. Sometimes they even ride on other animals!

Tiny monkeys love marshmallows! Attention Jacinda Ardern and Bill English.

Tiny monkeys love marshmallows! Attention Jacinda Ardern and Bill English. Photo: Screenshot from Youtube

You're welcome.

Keep it together on social media

We've thought long and hard about the shared standards we want to uphold in our RNZ audience community, and it's not just us being killjoys. At their best, the discussions among our community members surprise and delight us - we learn new things and hear new stories. Watching two strangers converse respectfully in a Facebook comment thread is a precious 2017 miracle.

On the flipside, we mean it when we ask people not to post violent threats, to make insulting, ad hominem attacks, or to say things that could get us or you into legal trouble.

"But I really, seriously hate this politician! Like, really, really hate them!" some of you beseech us, when we ask you to keep it polite.

That might be true, but we've all got to swim in the ocean of this discourse we create. If some people poo in the ocean, well, you know the drill. It gets on everyone.

Now is a great time to stop and think before posting comments on social media: about the people you're speaking to and about, and the people moderating the comments too. If other people's online remarks are stressing you out, what do you hope to achieve by contributing something equally as stressful?

Remember, too, that tone on social media can be hard to read. Sometimes it's kindest to give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than go all Donald Trump versus Kim Jong-un level nuclear on a situation, especially if we're talking about family members. Don't make Christmases awkward forever. Don't be that person.

What if it feels more serious?

If you struggle with anxiety or other mental health conditions, sometimes the news can feel a bit overwhelming, and cute animals might not cut it. In the United States, therapists say anxiety rises around election season, notably after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Here in New Zealand, Lifeline acknowledges that "post-election blues" can be a problem.

Mental health advocate Suzana Harris, who works for The Peer Tree - a Wellington-based organisation that runs support groups for young adults - says if you're struggling, you are not alone.

"Whatever you are feeling is valid and acceptable, and maintaining healthy self-care practices will help," she said.

Suzana recommends making sure you are eating regularly, drinking water, getting enough sleep and connecting with other people. If you need more help, she said it was best to visit your GP.

"This year's theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is 'nature,' so try getting outside a bit and exploring some of our beautiful native bush," she said.

"Remember that this time will pass, and try to keep focusing your attention on the present rather than your worrisome thoughts. It is only in this moment that we have any power."

Something that all of us - on Facebook, in the newsroom, and even down at Parliament - could all do well to remember.

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