Election Stress? You Aren't Alone.
A Self-Care Guide to Help You Get Through
How are you feeling today? If you woke up with a pit in your stomach, feeling anxious and uncertain about the future, you’re in good company. Beyond the pandemic, systemic racism, economic crises and other global challenges, the long, polarizing U.S. election is finally coming to an end. No matter what outcome you may hope for, it’s normal to feel stressed and even catastrophize about what will happen next — that’s what uncertainty does to us. That’s what elections, really, of any kind do. And one of this scale has the power to trigger us in very extreme ways.
According Dr. Lynn Bufka, a clinical psychologist at the American Psychological Association (APA), how we think about the future, or even near-pending events — like this election result — can elevate our emotional responses and peak our anxieties. On social media, we tend to live in our bubbles and may not always see what’s happening in the world outside our own beliefs and values.
“We are less exposed to alternative explanations, and we have less motivation to reconcile competing points of view,” Dr. Bufka says. “This also makes it harder for us to see why our neighbors, cousins, and fellow citizens have political views that are different from our own.”
When we are anxious about events, as many of us are right now, we seek out information to reassure ourselves. Too often, though, we are exposed to the same (or variations on) the same content that raised our anxieties in the first place.
“It becomes circular then — we are anxious, we seek information, that information makes us more anxious,” Bufka explained. “We get into this thought process of only X is acceptable. If Y happens instead of X, everything becomes terrible.”
This explains why about 77% of Americans say that the “future of the nation” is a significant source of stress.
So, how do we deal with it?
It’s possible to take control of our exposure and response to stressful situations, and actively do things that help us feel relaxed.
“It’s always okay to feel what we feel,” Bufka said. “What’s important is what we do about these feelings.”
Being aware of our feelings can help us find more ways to handle them well. We can create habits that help us manage our expectations so that we don’t end up feeling “out of control.”
Today, I want to empower you with a few simple rituals you can use to manage your emotions and optimize your self-care, whether it’s Election Day or any other stressful moment. Drawing from my own experience, I’ve put together some easy and fun practices that you can use when the world seems like too much to deal with.
Take stock of your feelings. Here’s the deal: Election Day is probably going to bring up a lot of different emotions for you. Before you take on the world, though, you need to look after yourself — and the first step is honoring those feelings. Take some time to check-in with yourself. Ask yourself: How am I feeling right now? Answer honestly. Naming your emotions can help you feel more in control of them.
Try to get at least two things done today. To give your brain a break, think about some everyday tasks that you can use to distract yourself (while also feeling productive). Write down five things that you’ve been avoiding lately and attempt to cross two off your list. Think about things that are low effort and boring. Maybe it’s your laundry or finally tackling those dishes in the sink. Vacuum the carpet. Rake some leaves. Go grocery shopping.
Set up a “solidarity chat group.” Think about who you want to be in contact with. A huge part of Election Day self-care is setting healthy boundaries with friends and family — especially if you have a friend group or family that’s politically divided. Don’t engage with people who want to start debates while you’re feeling low. This might look like a “no politics” rule at the dinner table or agreeing to only talk about politics over text (that way you can put your phone down and walk away when needed).
Focus on connecting with people who will support you today, like a group of friends who you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with. Create a “solidarity group” on the messaging platform of your choice. This can be your safe space to rant, share silly memes, and check-in on each other.
Limit social media or news notifications. While checking social media every few minutes may give you that adrenaline rush you’re craving, it’s not great for your mental health. Social media can trigger us in ways we might not want to be triggered.
Delete your Twitter and Facebook apps from your phone. Disable all notifications except for the one or two news outlets you trust most. Another trick is to put your phone face down, so you’re not constantly disturbed by the updates, and turn to your desktop if you want to know what’s happening.
Make a “Feel-Good Playlist.” Listening to music can have a profound impact on your emotions and body. Slow-tempo songs can quiet your mind and relax your muscles. Spend some time today putting together a playlist of songs that lift you up.
Write yourself notes or reminders. If you find it hard to stay off your phone, add a quote to the lock-screen as a “note to self.” Choose something that makes you feel calm and reassured. Or choose a thought or behavior you want to practice throughout the day. Each time your phone turns on, you’ll encounter it.
If you don’t want to use your phone, you can also go the traditional route and stick some post-it notes at your work desk. If you’re working from home, add notes where you know you’ll see them (on your monitor, on the fridge, on a door, or by the bed) to remind yourself that you just need to get through the day. This kind of positive self-talk will help you avoid dwelling on a negative feeling for too long.
However you feel, know that it’s okay. Emotions can linger on for some time even post-election. Things might not turn out as you expect them, and it might feel like there’s no way out. It’s okay to feel that way. Don’t judge yourself. Sit with those feelings. Let them come so that they can go.
Once you’re up for it, look for things you can actually do. Ask yourself, “What is in my control?” Do you want to donate to a cause? Volunteer with an organization? Start talking to people who are not like-minded, perhaps?
Finally, accept whatever happens (to the election and your emotions). Acceptance does not mean that you endorse something. It simply means you acknowledge things for what they are so you can move forward from there — emotionally and otherwise.