Dealing with Election Anxiety

Regardless of your political orientation, this election period has a lot of stressors for most people. Not only are there decisions to be made about the actual voting process, with concerns about voting in person or via mail, but there’s also a lot of tension between people with differing viewpoints and some fears about legitimacy and a peaceful transition that are mostly unique to this time around. Since I’ve been talking to a lot of clients about their election anxiety, I thought I’d list some techniques that have been working for some of them.

Create a self-care kit. I love the idea of having a tangible space in your life that is just for self-care. For some people, this means setting up a corner of a room or having a dedicated time and place for their spiritual and emotional needs, like a meditation space or time spent reading or in prayer. For other people, this could mean setting up a box full of things that remind them of happy times or assist with coping skills that they can bring out in times of need. I personally have an area in my living room with my favorite hammock chair, where I keep my books, LPs, incense and some comfy pillows, and I keep all of my work and errands away from that space. (The chair works well for this because it’s basically impossible to sit with a laptop in it, so that’s helped me keep it special.) If you only have a small space or want something portable, you could put letters to yourself and small sensory items like aromatherapy oil, a nice lotion, some chocolates, and pictures of friends and family in a box. It could be as small as a few words you write on a post-it that stays in your wallet. Whatever it is, consider something that Present You can do that would help out Future You.

Do your research, make your plan, and then STOP. If you’re nervous about being able to vote, waiting in long lines, or making sure your vote gets counted, arm yourself with information that you’ll need to do these tasks and understand what’s required. Get the info you need and then give yourself a break. If you’re nervous about the outcome of the election, do yourself a favor and stop reading all the polls and watching news reports for a while. There’s a difference between consuming news for utility – things you read or watch that will change how you behave, inform, and help you, and consuming news for anxiety – things you read or watch that will remind you of things you do not control, make you feel afraid, and instill a sense of panic. Pay attention to your body’s signals when you’re consuming the news, and if you notice sensations like tightness in your throat or chest, sweating, muscles clenching, or indigestion, that means it’s time to stop. There is a small group of people who do need to keep consuming news all the time in order to do their jobs, but if you are not in this category you do not need to feel guilty about turning off the TV or computer when your body is telling you that you’ve had enough. It makes sense that people are drawn to consuming more news in times of high stress, because obtaining information feels like control. However, the way that news and political programs are made now is meant to grab and keep attention and it’s not made to help your mental health.

Don’t be afraid to unfollow or snooze. Social media is not news. Unfortunately it’s a place where a lot of people share news, so even if you’re trying to take a break from news and veg out by scrolling pictures of your friends, you may find even more political content than if you were actually trying to read the news. What’s worse, political things shared on social media tend not to be more inflammatory, not fact-checked and are a breeding ground for trolls. DON’T FEED THE TROLLS! Even if it’s tempting, if you see an opinion that makes you so so angry pop up in your feed, don’t bite. Unfollow, unfriend, snooze, or delete/disable the app for a while. Even if it temporarily feels good to be right on the internet, if you engage with inflammatory political posts your social media algorithm may start flagging those as posts that it should show you more of. People you argue with may also try to poke and prod you for fun because they got a reaction out of you. That’s energy you don’t need in your life.

Get physical. In quarantine, I feel like we’ve all spent so much time online it’s been pretty easy to get disconnected from our bodies. It’s already a problem for a lot of people to feel in tune with what their bodies are feeling (myself included) because it’s something we’re typically taught to actively ignore or question through diet culture, abuse, and traditional work/school structure. Take some time to do something that makes your body feel really good. Something “analog.” Take a walk outside, jump around, cook something you love, knit, stretch, garden, build some furniture, whatever you can think of. Consider the things you used to do as a kid, like skip rope or build forts or draw, and see if you can get in touch with that playfulness again. Don’t worry about the calories you’re burning or if you’re good at what you’re doing, just do something with your body that feels fun and interesting and different.

Give your emotions time. If you can look forward into the future and anticipate that you may feel very stressed and distracted on the day of the election or the day after, or any particular day, schedule some extra time for yourself. Think about what you feel you need time for when you’re in high stress and again, let your Present You give a gift to Future You. Maybe you can’t take the day off work, but you could set aside some cash for a really good lunch that day and schedule a lighter load so you can take a longer break. You could schedule a workout class or set up a babysitter. Even if you’re not in a position to do something big, you can always give yourself 5 minutes to do a quick meditation or grounding exercise (check on Youtube or the Calm or Headspace apps). It’s also ok to remember that your emotions are not harmful to you and you don’t need to judge them. Feeling sad or angry over something that you’re worried is trivial isn’t bad. Feelings just are, and it’s ok to just let them be.

Get some perspective. For me, during quarantine and in a lot of stressful events this year it’s been helpful to call my grandma. I first started calling her because I was worried she was lonely since no one can visit her now. After a few months, I realized that she was exactly the type of calm, stable presence I really needed in my life to help me slow down and have perspective. Sometimes I would talk about worrying about work and my grandmother (who is 94) would relate by mentioning how chaotic it was at first when the Great Depression started, and then learning to enjoy living on a farm and having a slower life. When I was concerned about civil unrest in my community, my grandmother talked about how one day, all the men were drafted and only half of them came home, but then how she enjoyed traveling to another state and working in a factory and making new friends. I don’t mean to say that you should count your blessings and suck it up because your problems aren’t that bad. I do mean that it’s helpful to get perspective on the fact that human beings are resilient and amazing at adaptation. Anxiety is the act of creating future simulations, and sometimes it can help reign it in by seeing the facts of the past. People in the past who only had a fraction of the resources we do now were able to overcome so many horrible things, and they still found ways to have joy and fun even in the darkest times. We are resilient and we can keep going. Think about the evidence you have in your past for how you’ve been able to handle situations you didn’t believe you could, and try to build your confidence that your Future You will be even more capable than Past You was, because of all that you’ve learned in the time in between.

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