the cure for polarising politics

In Search Of A Cure For Polarising Politics

In August millions of people will go to the polls in Kenya’s national elections. It’s a season that often evokes past traumas and stokes political divisions. In the run-up to the vote, Staff Care Specialist and Kenyan national DIANA CHEPKOSGEI is running a series of events for us on how to avoid being swept along by polarising politics. Here she shares some of her insights.

The election season is here again. As many of us reflect and elect our preferred candidate and government, we are mindful it’s a time that comes with challenges and difficult memories. In a nutshell, elections mean different things to different people. For political enthusiasts, it’s a time of lively debate. For others (in Kenya especially) it’s a reminder of past loss and pain. Of course, there’s plenty of people for whom politics doesn’t mean much – they have lost hope and interest in our political leaders.

Whichever of these categories you find yourself in, the political polarisation that reaches its peak in election season is bound to affect your emotional environment. If you are a Kenyan citizen, what does this election season mean to you? How do you feel right now? I can imagine you feel an array of emotions. That’s why I want to tell you about an idea in Psychology called “emotional reactivity”. 

We can turn our emotional weakness into epic emotional strength.”

When any of us feel stressed, angry, hurt or tired, we tend to react impulsively and emotionally. This can lead us to overreact, and that overreaction is what we call “emotional reactivity”.

As Kenyan politicians advocate for their ideology, party or group, emotional reactivity can trickle down and spread across our communities, counties and social media. As we become emotionally exhausted by the campaigning, we become more emotionally reactive. For the most emotionally sensitive people, this overstimulation can lead to low energy and a lack of motivation. 

But this time is also an opportunity. The opposite of “reactivity” is “intentionality”, and if we can start to notice when we are being emotionally reactive, and instead start to be emotionally intentional, then we can turn our emotional weaknesses into epic emotional strength, which I believe can ultimately help us create an empowered vision for our country’s future. 

Here’s five simple ways you can start to make this shift right now:

  1. Be self-aware. Stay connected to yourself and try to notice if you are in a reactive state or in an intentional state. When you feel stressed, try not to disconnect from yourself, because that is a dangerous road. Instead, take a moment to check in with yourself and notice how you feel. 
  2. Stay connected to others. In a time of emotional reactivity, it’s important to remain connected to others. Try to keep a safe space for you to be vulnerable with others, to support each other, and to be accountable to each other. It’s important to have a community or friends who can “call you out” when you are being reactive.  
  3. Identify ways to practise self-care and community care.  What does self-care and community care look like for you? Is it a good run around the estate? A good read with a cup of tea? Enjoying the company of friends? Choose what makes you motivated and emotionally elevated during this time.
  4. Seek professional psychosocial support when you notice your inability to cope or to healthily respond to emotional reactivity. This may look like low mood, low motivation, poor appetite, poor sleep patterns or isolation from people. It’s okay to ask for help. 
  5. Above all, create boundaries. Boundaries within yourself and with other people. Know your limits in political conversations and social media consumption. Take a step back when you start to notice yourself feeling reactive.

If you’d like to grow in self-awareness and resilience in the run-up to the elections, or if you’re a workplace leader in Kenya and want to support your team at this time, check out the upcoming sessions that Diana is hosting on our events page

kenyan election events

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