Is this Election Affecting You?
If you are experiencing stress and anxiety about the upcoming U.S. presidential election, you are not alone. With the stakes perhaps higher than ever before and so much uncertainty as to when and how the election will be called, many Americans are finding themselves feeling increasingly anxious as they count down the days to November 3rd. Yet, as much as we might wish we could switch off our anxiety, it’s important to understand that this anxiety is not only understandable, but also adaptive. After all, anxiety is often what drives us to do things like make financial contributions and calls in support of our candidate.
That said, although it’s unlikely that your anxiety will resolve before winners are declared, there are things that you can do starting today to better tolerate the sense of unease that you are feeling. Below are four cognitive-behavioral strategies that you can use to manage your election-related distress so that you can more effectively navigate the present, as well as whatever transpires in the days and weeks ahead of us.
1) Practice Acceptance
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, one of the best ways to manage anxiety is to accept not only its presence, but also the possibility of our feared outcomes. The reason? Trying to push away or avoid anxiety-provoking thoughts or sensations tends to backfire, causing these unwanted experiences to come up more frequently and more intensely in the long run. Sure, you might feel better momentarily if you try to ignore your symptoms, but this is likely to be a short-term fix that will soon leave you feeling anxious again.
Sound tough? It is. In fact, this approach will likely increase your anxiety at first. However, the more that you practice accepting the thoughts and physical sensations that make up your anxiety, the easier it will become to tolerate them. And given that this election could drag on for days or longer, this short-term investment is worth making for the long-term relief that it provides.
2) Cope Ahead
In addition to accepting that your feared outcomes could happen, it can also be helpful to plan for how you will cope if they actually do happen. The goal isn’t to convince you that you shouldn’t be anxious about this possibility, but rather to help you strategize about how you can cope well even if this worst-case scenario occurs. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), this skill is called Cope Ahead. close your eyes and imagine as vividly as possible that your candidate has lost the election while picturing yourself coping effectively with this loss by using the coping strategies that you selected. Finally, rinse and repeat, knowing that the more that you practice coping ahead, the more likely it is that you will remember to use these coping strategies should your feared outcome come to fruition.
3) Take Care of Your Body
Even though it might seem obvious on paper, another step that you can take to manage your anxiety is to ensure that you are following the basics of self-care for the remainder of this unusually stressful election season. You know, the things that we all know we should be doing but often fail to do. These include the following:
Getting adequate – but not too much – sleep (for most of us, that’s 7-9 hours/night)
Eating healthy, balanced meals on a regular schedule
Exercising on a regular basis (ideally for at least 20 minutes/day)
Taking medications, as prescribed
Avoiding recreational drugs
Avoiding (or Limiting) alcohol consumption
You might be wondering whether it’s really worth giving up your late night binges on ice cream, wine, Netflix's You or The Queen's Gambit, Social Media (Twitter, IG, FB, or TikTok), or the News, but I promise, it is. This is because taking care of our bodies & our minds is one of the best ways to promote emotional resilience.
4) Get Active
Last but not least, it can be helpful to engage in meaningful activities that bring you a sense of pleasure and mastery – even if it's the last thing that you feel like doing these days. The key here is to get active and to throw yourself completely into whatever it is that you choose to do. If worries about the election pop up, acknowledge the possibility of your feared outcomes and then gently shift your attention to whatever it is that you would like to engage in; Such as other activities that will be much more beneficial for your mood: Prayer, Read a book, go for a walk, call a friend, fold laundry/housework, cook dinner for your family, or anything you else you may find relaxing.
This election and its fallout will end one day in the not-too-distant future, and hopefully we will all be singing a much more upbeat and unifying tune when that day comes. Until then, take care of yourself and your mental health.