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Too much politics bad for your health

Heightened political temperatures can cause anxiety as people engage in political banter pitting one side against  the other, leading to post-election stress disorder

It has been an eventful year. A whole 10 months of people calling each other names and campaigns filled with sordid character assassination and disparaging confrontations. And don’t even get started on the weekly street demonstrations that almost ripped the Kenyan economy apart.

Presidential politics bombarding news feeds and newspapers is enough to make anyone fatigued. The worst part is that there seems to be no end to it, the air is filled with uncertainty and as such, many people have gotten burned out, or worse, apathetic.

“It is easy to feel like the sky is falling during elections. There is a general irritability associated with this time,” says licensed clinical psychologist Stephen Arama.

While he has not diagnosed anyone with clinical anxiety over an election period, it’s not inconceivable that the stress is real. The comments, tweets and Facebook statuses about the insanity of the presidential race and the state of the country may be hyperbolic, but there’s still a valid, underlying worry.

Florence Kamau, for example, is a businesswoman trading in second hand clothes in Kayole. Her business has been on an all-time low since January.

“I depend on this business to pay rent, eat and pay school fees for my three children, this year has been the most difficult. In fact, I have not paid rent for two months and I am living under the mercies of the landlord,” says the 39-year-old.

She says, her clothes shop is situated at a location where most people belong to a certain community, and since the political fevers began, they have been doing everything to sabotage her business because they do not subscribe to the same political affiliation.

“Sometimes during campaigns, when an aspirant passed by to sell their agenda, goons would attack my stall and steal clothes or vandalise my stall. Other times, I would come in the morning and find that my business stand is gone,” she mourns. “I cannot count how many times I have had to close down the business completely for hours or even days, especially when the political temperatures are at their highest,” she adds.

The worst time was in August, the election month when she only opened shop for two hours and then retired home to safety.

She confides that the national campaign scene has not only cost her business, but also untold suffering to her health.  “I have lost sleep, and if I sleep, I don’t feel rested when I wake up. I am always having constant headaches and I think my blood sugar levels have gone up because I am always living in fear, wondering what is to become of country and my family,” she said.

The big cats in the business world are also crying during this time. Eduh Wafula, owner of Spring Digital, a branding company based in Westlands, agrees that the stress and anxiety created by the political environment is real and widespread.

“Get it from me, in my circles, many have lost sleep, suffered from headaches and stomach pain, and harmed relationships over political differences,” he says.

Wafula remembers a business dinner party he was invited to shortly after the August election quickly soured when the discussion turned to politics. Conversation became heated, almost confrontational, and they refused to change the topic.

“At the end, business ties were severed, friendships ended and a marriage almost broke,” he recounts.

Turned down

He says in an era of divisive politics, business owners are increasingly forced to define where they stand, before it defines them.

Working in the branding business, Wafula says, his offer to do business with some political parties or organisations affiliated to certain tribes have been turned down, only to learn later that it was based on his political stand.  Since then, he chooses not to talk about politics, “I try to stay as apolitical as possible because of the immense baggage it carries. If voting or supporting one side or the other didn’t have social implications and was just purely for policy reasons, I think that’s fine, otherwise, I choose to remain silent, focus on the ballot and save my business,” he intimates.

Arama notes that post and pre-election stress disorder has been evident many times in the country, especially on social media. “Do you remember the Githeri man? The sigh of relief from politics when his news broke was so loud, you could almost hear it. The hullabaloo was just an escape for many people. Something to laugh about, and to distract them,” he says.

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