A huge thank you to BetterHelp for sponsoring this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
The job of our mind is to think. Just like our heart has the job of, well, beating.
Anxiety and stress aren’t inherently bad – in fact – it is a sign that our brain is doing its job to try and help keep us safe. The problem becomes when that stress and anxiety becomes more prevalent than not – and we’re not able to give our minds and body systems a break. During a time like the election.
Our body safety systems work like this: your brain is constantly scanning for danger. Once it perceives something as danger, it sends a signal to the rest of your bodily systems to prepare to fight, flight, or flee. But what if there is no actual danger? The body still goes through this entire response, and we need to work on telling it that we are safe, and everything is OK.
And I’m going to share 19 things to help with that – as this is something I’m constantly practicing and working on.
Side note: if you like reading about how our brains and bodies operate under stress and anxiety, I would HIGHLY recommend the book ‘The Chemistry of Calm’ by Henry Simmons. It’s an amazing book that I learned so much from about my own body and anxiety.
Ok, so the election.
I know that I literally don’t have to go into anything about it, because well, if you know, you know. And since you’re here, you know.
But, first let’s take a look at something called ‘election stress disorder’.
Is it election stress disorder?
What is election stress disorder? First off, it’s not an official mental illness as determined by the American Psychological Association. It was created by a psychologist named Steven Stosny, PhD around the 2016 election, when he noticed many of his patients were really struggling with election stress. And not only that, but that the stress they were experiencing was flowing into their everyday life (source). He was noticing a substantial increase in the following symptoms in patients: increased amounts of anxiety, restless night’s sleep and difficulty concentrating in other areas of life.
Can you relate?
I know I can.
And while this may not be an official diagnosis or mental health condition, it does give what we are experiencing a name – something that I find super helpful in my own mental health journey. Why? Because it gives what you are experiencing a name, which is incredibly helpful in countering any ‘is this all in my head/I’m all alone in this’ feelings/thoughts.
Side note: please know that I’m not a therapist or medical professional, so please take these tips as you see fit. I’m just a girl who has dealt with symptoms of anxiety and depression her whole life, and who actively works on trying to manage those symptoms – and who believes that we all should be having open conversations to reduce the stigma. If you feel you need immediate help please contact the crisis text line by texting ‘home’ to 741741.
19 ways to help manage election stress and anxiety
Limit news consumption, or counter with good news
Constant news consumption can cause a lot of triggers, and keep us in a state of constant anxiety if your body is perceiving each headline as a threat.
Be very mindful and intentional about how much news you consume, and what type of news you’re consuming. Turn off notifications, unfollow news social media channels, and unsubscribe to emails.
Then, pick one local and one national/international news source, set a certain time each day to skim through, and that’s it. And don’t be afraid to shut it down if you find you are getting triggered. Sometimes, I’ll start reading headlines and instantly feel my body tense up. That’s how I know now is not a good time, close the source, and walk away.
I really like TheSkimm, because it provides brief, consumable international and national stories about what happened the previous day. It comes in a daily email, so I can choose when I want to open and read it.
Know you’re not alone
According to one survey by the APA, “the current political climate is reported as a significant source of stress by more than two-thirds of Americans (68%), compared with 62% who said the same in 2019.”
Additionally, the election stress we are feeling is different for those with chronic illnesses or who are BIPOC.
“The proportion of Black adults reporting the election as a source of stress jumped from 46% in 2016 to 71% this year” and “adults with a chronic condition are consistently more likely than those who do not have a chronic condition to report the election as a source of stress in their life”. (source)
Knowing that you’re not alone can be a big help in managing election stress and anxiety, because often we find ourselves in a thought pattern that we are the only ones! If you find yourself in a thought pattern like that, give yourself this gentle reminder.
Related post: Anxiety Stories | Normalizing Anxiety in Today’s World
Anxiety and stress – whether it is election related or not – live in the past or the future. Either things can NOT live in the present moment (thanks Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now.) Mindfulness is a great way to bring your thoughts back to the present moment, if you find them in the past or future.
I’ve written an entire post with 14 tips and exercises to incorporate mindfulness into your life during times of uncertainty. You can find that post here.
Meditate, or do a meditative activity
Research is abound about meditation and the effect on our fight/flight/flee system in our bodies (hint: it’s amazing.) My favorite meditation resource is either my 2-minute self-guided mindfulness meditations, or Insight Timer, which is a free app that has thousands and thousands of meditations with different styles and teachers.
If you’re having trouble with traditional meditations, there are other ways to get similar benefits! Activities such as baking/cooking, gardening, doing a puzzle, coloring, or reading are all great options as well. These activities require you to be fully present on the task at hand, and doing so brings you into the present moment.
Related post: 5 Ways to Meditate Without Actually Meditating
Remember how I talked about constant news being a trigger? Well it probably comes at NO surprise that social media can do the same thing. When we’re scrolling on social media, (also sometimes referred to as ‘doom scrolling’), we aren’t in control of the type of content we are seeing – no matter how curated our feed is. Consistent scroll can also evoke other emotions such as jealousy, guilt, feeling inadequate, and more. Not something we want to invite if we can help it while feeling stressed and anxious.
Personally if I’m especially feeling stressed and anxious, I find myself wanting to aimlessly scroll more often than usual, as it provides a false sense of control and search for connection. But in reality it often just makes me feel worse.
One resource that helps me is the forest app. It will “lock” you out of your phone, and if you complete the time you set, you grow a tree and earn coins. If you pay the $1.99 app fee, you can eventually redeem those coins to plan an actual tree in an actual forest with the app’s partner organization.
I have an entire post on how to limit social media use which you can find here.
Expose yourself to nature
This is another area where there is tons of research supporting the benefits of exposing yourself to nature and positive mental health. And that doesn’t automatically mean getting outside. Even activities such as looking out a window or viewing a nature photo (yes, there is a specific reason I deck these types of posts out with nature photos) can provide benefits.
According to one site:
““It [exposure to nature] is associated with reduced levels of stress — which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience…improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially.”
“Such effects have been found for not only being immersed in nature — like in the woods or a park — but also for looking out the window at natural scenes and even simply looking at photos of them.”
Getting outside helps me get out of my own head. It literally feels like the world is opening up, and the thoughts I was ruminating on aren’t as big of a deal as they were when I was sitting inside. It literally feels like it is providing me the space I need to separate from the thoughts, and work through them.
Bonus: if you can get outside and move your body, even better. I like to think of energy and stress and energy. If the body starts the stress/anxiety response, that usually includes alerting systems to provide us energy in case we need to flee or fight. But if there isn’t an actual threat, and we don’t do anything to release that energy, it just sits and festers. Moving your body is an excellent way to move that energy through so it doesn’t get stuck. Plus, exercising releases endorphins – which help us feel good!
Practice self compassion (and compassion in general)
Oftentimes when we are feeling stressed or anxious, especially when it come to the election, it can be common to be hard on ourselves or others. Specifically, for the 2020 election, people are scared. And fear causes us to act in ways we may not normally act. That doesn’t make it right, but understanding this can be a step in moving past something you or someone did or said. It also can help us move out of reactionary mode if we’re feeling defensive, and into a response mode where the logical part of our brain is activated to decide how we want to move forward.
For example, if someone you know said something that offended you, chances are that responding super defensively is not going to help. That person’s brain is going to perceive a threat (you), and likely retaliate back defensively. By trying to show that person compassion (I understand they are feeling scared, I’m feeling scared too), you can choose how you want to respond; maybe by trying to have a constructive conversation, or just to protect your boundaries and not engage.
Compassion is so important and so necessary right now, towards ourselves and others. Yes, this can be extremely difficult, but with more and more practice it can be a useful tool in our toolbox.
Related post: How to practice self compassion (with actual examples)
Focus on what you can control
Stress and anxiety often stem from the fact that we wish a situation was different, or from the fact that we can’t control an outcome. Try as we might to control something, we can’t. And when we can’t, our anxiety and stress levels increase because the mind thinks we should!
So, when feeling election stress and anxiety (or any for that matter), focus on the things that you can control. Make a list and look at it regularly.
For the election, for example, here is what I would have on my list:
- Research candidates thoroughly
- Encourage others to vote
- Assist with helping others to vote in whatever way I can
- Stick to my daily routine as much as possible
- Limit news and social media consumption
- Drink water, eat nourishing foods, get outside, move my body, etc
Put your list somewhere that you can see it as often as you need.
What are you looking forward to?
Sometimes when I feel super overwhelmed, or if I let my mind ruminate on the election, the results of the election, the aftermath of the election, etc., I find that I start feeling like I’m losing hope, which is not a state I want to stay in!
To help with this, I find that making a list of things I’m looking forward to is super helpful. I give myself five minutes or so, and just do a brain dump of anything and everything I’m excited about coming up in the relatively near future. The first time I did it, I was really surprised at how many things I came up with! It was a great visual reminder that there are still lots of great things to look forward to, even if sometimes everything seems so unknown.
You can visit this post on my Instagram page for more on this type of activity.
Above I talked about how I view anxiety as a course of energy that needs to be worked off in order to move through our body. But ‘working off’ that energy doesn’t have to look like going for a run, for example. It can look like volunteering for a phone bank, making a donation, researching candidates, etc.
Doing something towards a situation you’re feeling anxious and stressed about can give you back a feeling of some control, and can also help move that energy through your body.
Focus on your local election candidates
Sometimes, when it comes to the national election, it can feel as if no matter who you vote for it won’t make a big difference. I get it. Sometimes my thoughts go there too. And while I’m certainly NOT advocating you don’t vote in the national election, I am recommending this:
Get involved in your local elections.
For example, there are two city council seats open right now in my town. Upon researching the candidates, I found that neither of them really addressed the climate crisis.
I emailed both of them, and asked about it – what their thoughts were, generally what would their votes be for green legislation, etc.
One of them emailed me back with a super long, thoughtful response, asked what I thought about his stances on certain things, and wanted to continue the dialogue.
That isn’t something you’re going to get with a national election.
I firmly believe that change for the climate crisis is going to happen at the grassroots level, and local government has a huge role in that. And since you play a huge part in deciding who gets to fill that role? You can play a huge part as well.
Notice where the anxiety and stress are showing up in your body
Have you ever noticed that anxiety and stress symptoms show up physically in your body? Maybe they manifest as a tight chest, clenched jaw, tense muscles, a tension headache, stomach issues, light-headedness, etc.
Obviously, these sensations aren’t pleasant, like, at all. But the good news is this. Once you start to become aware of where your body is holding these emotions, you can do something to counteract them. Stretch, lots of deep breathing, going for a walk, taking a bath, dancing it out, etc. can all help.
Noticing the physical sensations can also help move your thoughts from rumination to the physical discomfort, which can help give them something more productive to do (like, figuring out what would feel good to work through the discomfort.)
Complete the stress response cycle
I was recently listening to Brene Brown’s podcast ‘Unlocking Us’ – specifically an episode on burnout. In the episode, Brene’ and the guests talked about the physical response to stress and anxiety, and how oftentimes we don’t ‘complete the cycle’. What cycle, you may ask?
The cycle I’ve alluded to throughout this post. That physical, get ready to fight, flight, or flee response our body has ready for us when we’re triggered. Those systems get activated, but then we don’t finish the entire cycle. And we get triggered again. And again. And again. And soon, we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, and burnt out.
The episode also gives a bunch of tips for how to complete the stress cycle, so we don’t get stuck.
The episode is, in my opinion, a MUST listen – especially as we are in a time of election burnout, COVID burnout, and any other burnout we may be experiencing.
Want something that can almost instantly reduce stress and anxiety, improve our mood, and literally rewire our brain to see the good things in your life?
This magical exercise is one of those things that brings our minds out of the past and future (where stress and anxiety live) and into the present moment.
The more you practice it, the more our brains start to look for more things to reinforce the belief that we’re grateful. It truly is amazing.
Even more amazing?
It’s free, super easy (even if you’re having a tough day, something as simple as your breath can be something you’re grateful for), and only takes a few minutes.
Related post: Why you Need More Gratitude in your Life Right. Now.
Sometimes, you just need to get thoughts out of your head!
I used to think journaling wasn’t for me. I thought it was sitting down, writing the date at the top of the page, and starting it with ‘dear diary’ (yes, really.)
Now, sometimes I sit down and just do a massive brain dump. Sometimes I write down anxieties and fact check them. Sometimes I make pro/con lists. Sometimes I write affirmations. Etc. Etc.
Journaling can be such a great stress and anxiety relief activity because it provides an outlet for those thoughts that sometimes feel like they have nowhere else to go.
Plus, if you’re physically writing down your thoughts (versus typing), you can’t write as fast as your brain can think, so it automatically slows down any racing thoughts you may be experiencing.
Bonus: have a bonfire and burn the pages for a super cleansing and clearing ritual (directly followed by s’mores.)
Understand anxiety/stress words
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
Find yourself thinking those words or some variation of those words often?
Notice how they’re not concrete, but ambiguous?
These are classic stress and anxiety terms and THRIVE on the unknown.
“He shouldn’t have said x, y, z in the debate. Oh gosh, now he’s going to lose”
“I wish I could have been more well versed in that conversation with my uncle about racial and social justice. Now I’ve completely blown it.”
You get the idea.
Start paying attention to how many times these types of thoughts run through your mind.
You can find more about these types of words and what to do on my Instagram post here.
Connect with others
We can find support in community. Whether that’s a friend, family, neighbors, or your actual community – it doesn’t matter. We are hardwired (thanks, ancestors from long, long ago) to be part of a community – as that’s how hunters and gatherers thrived.
If you’re feeling like you’re experiencing a lot of election stress and anxiety symptoms, call up a friend and talk through it (even better, get outside and go on a socially distanced walk with someone.) Chances are they’re experiencing similar things.
I truly believe, nay, 100% feel that we will get through this. Times are really scary right now. But I have so much hope and knowing that all this is temporary. And while our lives may look different on the other side, life will not always look like this. I believe there are still so many things to be thankful for, enjoy, and so much life to live.
Find and engage with someone you find inspiring. For me, that’s often Jane Goodall. For you, it may be someone else. Surround yourself with hopeful messages and people, and absorb their optimism.
If your election stress and anxiety (or any other mental illness) symptoms start to become completely overwhelming, and/or start affecting your day to day life, it is important to reach out for help.
Luckily, there are lots of therapy options these days – some you don’t even need a referral from your doctor.
BetterHelp is one of those services that offers 100% complete virtual/phone sessions giving you easy access to a mental health professional. Even better, once you sign up, you’re matched with a professional that is a good fit for you – reducing the guesswork of trying to find someone that will be a good match. BetterHelp also strives to be completely accessible for users who need such services. You can find more information about that here.
BetterHelp mental health professionals cover a wide variety of topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, couples therapy, assistance for teens, and much, much more (you can see a full list on their website.)
Note: BetterHelp is not a good fit if you’re in a crisis or someone may be in danger. For situations like that, please call 911 or contact the Crisis Text Line (Home to 741741).
Other therapy options include checking with your general physician, or with your insurance company (note: BetterHelp does not take insurance. You can read more about why here.)
Visit the BetterHelp website today and take an important step in getting the help you may need.
What are some things you’ve done that have helped you manage election stress and anxiety? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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