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"If Politics Makes You Sick..."

By Herb Borkland


"Politics makes me sick," President William Howard Taft said. Election stress also gives regular citizens their share of backaches and heart troubles. If you take it too seriously, politics can be dangerous to your health.

All healers agree stress is a killer. No candidate's office is worth voters developing backaches or headaches, insomnia, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, or any of at least six other major physical symptoms and the 20 other emotional and cognitive symptoms of stress.

Because Americans rank among the world's best-informed citizens, we are among the most likely to let politics seriously upset us. Keeping in mind that harming your health does no cause any good, here are three Washington rules for a pain-free and naturally-well Presidential Year...

The historic 2008 run for the White House is already causing stress-related health problems. For example, this week, one online political blogger posted, "I have to put myself on another news blackout. Does anybody else get so stressed that they stay awake at night? And have chest pains?"

Rule One: Real political professionals never let their emotions get the better of them, so don't you, either.

Today the online activist can get just as immediately involved with campaigning as a Capital Hill insider. That's a mixed blessing. "The problem for amateurs," points out one D.C. native, "is how easily, for a few supporters, somebody else's run for office turns into a battle of good versus evil."

Going into battle, the body's natural "fight or flight" stress response triggers "a cascade of biological changes that prepare us for emergency action." The problem is this occurs in tense situations whether they involve an immediate danger, like a car accident, or are only an upcoming public speaking engagement. The longer the stress keeps the body in emergency mode, the more drastic the worsening harm to health.

Rule Two: If you are starting to burn out, drop out of the campaign.

A little stress can act as a tonic; it elevates your game. However, as with any stimulant, as time goes on, larger and larger doses are required for the user to experience that same level of intensity. Similarly, because heavy political stress also induces loss of objectivity, emotional mission-creep sets in. What began pleasantly as part-time hours for a local congressman now turns into a caffeine-fueled fight for eternity at the edge of the world.

People always feel they are in control. Stress can be a serious health problem without the sufferer even being aware of it, so staying alert to symptoms is vital. For instance, you may think you're okay because you aren't jittery, but you might experience weight loss or gain, diarrhea or constipation, hives or eczema, loss of sex drive or frequent colds.

Even if you don't actively work for a candidate, if you are a passionate partisan, common sense suggests that feeling tense, lonely and on edge — all symptoms of stress — are not signs of a healthy involvement in what you're doing. It's personal wellness at stake, not the fate of the world. A former D.C. street organizer advises, "Others can pass out the literature, carry the sign, staff the chat rooms."

Rule Three: Somebody gets elected, all campaigns come to an end, but your life still goes on.

A Washington political novelist once wrote, "When the campaign is giving more meaning to your life than your life already has, the campaign is getting much too important." Family, friends, work, community commitments and our pleasures all demand complete attention, in their order, because they, not politics, are our real life. And sound personal health is grounded in balanced arrangements of daily living.

In summary:

1) don't let your emotions get the better of you,
2) when you start to feel the burn, take a break from the stress, and
3) maintain perspective on your priorities -- a healthy life depends on it.

Oh... and don't forget to vote!


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All material herein is provided for information only and may not be construed as personal medical advice. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The publisher is not a licensed medical care provider. The information is provided with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in the practice of medicine or any other health-care profession and does not enter into a health-care practitioner/patient relationship with its readers. The publisher is not responsible for errors or omissions.

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