Election stress is now a thing. Over 50% of Americans say they are “stressed out” about the current election, and some therapists are even talking about “Election Stress Disorder.” About a quarter of us report that our jobs have become more stressful because “office politics” have been replaced by actual politics.
Because STRESS just happens to be one of my specialties (both as a practitioner of it and a mindfulness instructor helping people alleviate it), I’ve created a helpful guide for you to mindfully manage your election stress:
Just remember the acronym STRESS.
Say, “Help Me Understand.”
If your election stress stems from disagreements with friends or family members or co-workers who are voting for the other guy (or gal), instead of jumping straight to a defense of your position, say, “Help me understand. Help me understand why you support so-and-so.”
Mindfulness teaches us to not hold too tightly to our own beliefs — which is a tall order in politics! We can begin this practice by understanding the beliefs of others.
Trying to convince someone else to change their mind can be exhausting, and often unproductive. While there is certainly a place for campaigning and advocacy, that place is probably not the neighborhood Halloween party or the office cooler. If you’ve “gone there” with the election discussion, try to understand the other person’s view. You don’t have to agree with them, but knowing the reasons for their position may help you find a point of connection, a recognition of your common humanity. You may realize you both, in fact, value things like safety and security, but have very different strategies to meet those universal needs.
The greatest danger this election season is not that the other side will win, but that we will continue to see the other side as “other.” Regardless of the outcome, we must honor that they are us and we are them. This is as incredibly difficult as it is vitally important.
Stress is a feeling of being out of control, of having no power to change things or make a situation better. When we act, we gain a valuable sense of agency and power. This is good news for election stress, because elections are all about action!
So act. Vote. Volunteer. Educate yourself. Even if the outcome of the election is not what you hope it to be, you still have an incredible amount of power in your community to effect change through your loving energy and action.
No matter what the cause of your stress, REST is always an important part of the solution.
And there are many ways to rest: Go to bed early. Take a nap. Meditate for five minutes. Give yourself a hand massage. Sip a warm beverage. Just rest!
Envision the worst case scenario.
This may seem counterintuitive, but research actually shows that when we consider the worst possible outcomes, we 1) mentally prepare ourselves for the undesired possibility, and 2) discover that it’s not as bad as we think it is.
I actually forced myself to do this one this weekend, and it helped! I reminded myself of all the other institutions in this country that share in governing, from local to state to national levels. I was able to feel how much I’m clinging to an outcome that I can influence, but certainly cannot control entirely. I took many deep breaths, and knew that though I would be saddened and angered and indeed a bit frightened if my “worst case scenario” came to be, I would be okay.
Given the passions that have flared up on all sides in this election, it’s fair to assume that, no matter the outcome, a large portion of our nation will be facing what they have labeled a “worst case scenario” on November 9. I believe it is incumbent upon all of us to be prepared to accept that outcome peacefully and gracefully. I’m not saying we can’t be disappointed — we must all feel all the feels — but we must also allow all the things to do their thing, including democracy.
Step Away From the News.
It’s our duty as citizens to be informed. But it’s also our duty as human beings to ensure we are safe to be around! If the news is making you angry and stressing you out, turn it off. It will be there in an hour (believe me!). Go back to Step R (rest), and return to the news later. When you engage with the news from a place of clarity and stability, you will be able to do Step T (take action) much more effectively!
See the Good.
Over half of the campaign ads we see each day are negative — bashing an opponent or playing upon our fears and insecurities. These ads are probably effective because of our brain’s negativity bias — we are much more likely to pay attention to and remember negative events because they are more relevant to our survival.
That means we have to work a bit harder to see the good — but it is ALWAYS there. Set an intention today to look for five good things about your life and our world. Elections tend to steer us toward apocalyptic thinking, but it’s still an amazing and beautiful world out there.
And no matter what happens, that will still be true on November 9.