Election Day is here and if you are feeling agitated and on-edge, you are not alone. The political atmosphere of the past decade has caused many Americans to experience anxiety on a scale we rarely see when living outside the Beltway of Washington DC. Comfort in the stability of our political institutions has plummeted. Pew Research says the majority of Americans (58%) are not satisfied with the way democracy is working in our country with 85% saying our political system needs to be changed or completely reformed. With this level of pessimism, there is no surprise that election stress has a very real impact on our emotional and mental well-being.
People experience amped up emotions based on the increasing acrimony of partisanship during the build up to the election and their perceived future post-election. The Mayo Clinic describes these symptoms of increased stress as difficulty concentrating, a sense of impending doom, nervousness or unexplained tension. Over time, this elevated stress can manifest in our physical body as chest pain, fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, and digestive issues.
Stress over any event is exacerbated by the feeling that it is out of our control. To reduce that anxiety, focus on the elements you CAN control. Here are out top 5 tips for voting out election anxiety:
1. Take Action - Vote and Volunteer
Humans dislike change. It doesn't matter if this is a positive or negative change. We prefer stability and in the presence of changing circumstances, we retreat back into fear and hiding. The fastest way out of a fear-based mindset is to take action.
Actions like volunteering for a cause or candidate gives you the opportunity to move out of fear into a passionate forward motion. Voting feels good to fulfill a requirement of maintaining democracy as well as contributing your small part towards a greater whole. Win or lose, you know you did your part.
2. Shut off the News and Social Media
It used to be that to hear news, you had to read a newspaper or sit down for the evening news after dinner. Now it's everywhere. On your laptop, cellphone, social media feeds, and more. But swimming in the negative spiral of news, a phenomenon the National Institute of Health calls "doomscrolling" increases levels of stress and anxiety over time.
What can you do when you need to know information, but you do NOT need to be overwhelmed by it?
Detox - Shut down the automatic news notifications. Stop doomscrolling and running down rabbit holes of information. Give yourself 2-5 days away from it all.
Reset - Gauge your emotions and mental health status after the detox. Commit to maintaining or improving your mental wellness.
Reform - When you do reopen yourself to news sources, limit your providers and exposure. Pick 2-4 you will read and give yourself a time limit you will take to absorb the news. Avoid doing so before going to bed as this will increase your agitation.
3. Focus on Your Physical and Personal Needs
Reconnect to those close to you, Keep a more focused eye on your diet and sleep patterns. Walking around the block with a partner or pet will increase your well-being and add critical exercise to your life. Be vigilant to avoid negative stress coping skills like drinking or diving into carb-rich comfort foods or sugars.
Find other ways to increase your sense of well-being. Volunteer with a local pet adoption agency or human services charity. Schedule evening dinners with friends and family. Rest and read. Anything that brings serenity into your home and environment.
4. Look for Hope
Refocus on the outdoors and the ever renewing ability of nature to go on, despite challenges. Mr. Rogers said to look for the "helpers" because there are always people that will do good when needed.
Focus on elements you can control and refocus your efforts towards that. And keep it all in perspective. Practice gratitude for the factors you have that others only wish for like food, shelter, clothing, and health. And even if the worst does happen, how will your life immediately change and what can you still do to help others? Reframe your fears of the future into the action of what I will do if this happens.
Above all, know that you are NOT overreacting. This is the new normal for the time being and you deserve to take care of yourself and take the steps needed to keep yourself happy, healthy, safe, and sane. Awareness is the first step and action will move you forward.