How to navigate conversations about politics productively, safely and respectfully

13 May 2022

With the Federal Election fast approaching, the news agenda in overdrive and conversations about politics more frequent on social media and IRL, it can be a stressful time for many of us. After a couple of challenging years, there’s a good chance you might be feeling exhausted, passionate or even confused by what’s happening in politics. 

New research* from ReachOut indicates that stress about the future is having a moderate or major impact on the wellbeing of 55 percent of young people, and things like being able to afford the lifestyle you want (30%), being able to survive financially (29.5%), building a career in your chosen field (28%) and your mental and physical health (28%) are some of the key concerns for young people. So, with conversations about politics and the future of our country inevitable over the next few weeks, learning how to navigate these conversations productively, safely and respectfully is so important when it comes to looking after our mental health and wellbeing. 

For some, chatting about politics can be really interesting and productive. It can help to vocalise how you feel about issues that are important to you, teach yourself and others something new, and invoke healthy discussions about current affairs. On the flip side however, these discussions can be uncomfortable for some, bring up stress and anxiety for others, and perhaps feel like certain boundaries are being crossed. 

Of course it’s important to learn how to have healthy discussions about things that matter to you, whether it be the education system, health system, employment and finances, rights and liberties, the future of our planet and its environment, or the hardships of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, or beliefs. But it’s also important to learn how to navigate these conversations safely and respectfully. For example, if someone is shying away from a conversation, it’s important to respect their boundaries and appreciate people may have their own reasons for not engaging. Similarly, if a conversation is getting animated and you’re feeling upset, it’s okay to take a break or respectfully walk away. 

In the lead up to the Federal Election, ReachOut has put together some tips for navigating conversations about politics in productive, respectful and safe ways.

  • Have a clear purpose. It’s important to figure out what you want to achieve before talking to other people about politics. Do you want to learn more about what other people believe in? Do you want to challenge assumptions? Or do you just want to have a healthy discussion? Remember to be upfront so that others can opt out if they do not feel comfortable engaging in the conversation. For example, you could say something like: “I’m keen to talk about this topic with you but let me know whether you have the space and energy for this today.”
  • Listen and be curious. Understanding other people’s beliefs, values, perspectives and insights is  important so be curious, ask questions, challenge your assumptions and be open to learning something new. If you don’t agree with something someone said, ask if they are open to explaining why they think or feel a certain way and thoughtfully share your difference in opinion. 
  • Focus on things you can control. If you’re feeling frustrated during a conversation about politics, focusing on what you can control while acknowledging the things you can’t will help you to remain calm. Remember that you can’t control the way other people think or act, nor can you control the actions of powerful groups like governments or corporations, so try to focus on small but significant things you can control in your own world - like exercising, going to work or studying - as well as the people closest to you. Voting the way that best represents your views and opinions, and finding other ways to get involved, can also help you to feel more in control of the situation. 
  • Be respectful. Most importantly, remember that not everyone will feel the same way as you and that’s okay. It’s important to respect other people’s wishes if they do not want to engage in a discussion about politics with you, or have a differing opinion. 
  • Check in. Most importantly, make sure you check in with yourself and ask yourself how you're feeling in that moment because, even if you might enjoy chatting about politics, there’s a chance you might start feeling stressed, anxious or sad and might need to take a break. This could mean engaging in some self-care like going for a walk or listening to some music.

For more information about ReachOut, visit ReachOut.com. Young people can also access ReachOut’s online community to connect with others for peer support. You can also find urgent help here

*Findings from an online survey of 1000 young people aged 16-21 years conducted by ReachOut in February 2022.

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