How to cope with your election anxiety because we're all kind of freaking out
I had insomnia the night of the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Something about the now-infamous Billy Bush bus recordings and the menacing way Trump hovered over Clinton, the "you'd be in prison" snarl, his aggressive personal attacks. I couldn't even stand to watch the entire debate, and still it sent a toxic cocktail of emotions that kept my mind racing all through the night.
The next morning, I was surprised to find just about every women I talked to had the same night.
SheKnows editorial intern Lashanda Anakwah says the Trump campaign has made her feel attacked from all sides. "As a black woman, Trump’s campaign has been a painful reminder of how little I matter in the United States, or the world for that matter, when you factor in white supremacy," she says. "Trump has repeatedly insulted black people, black life and black culture. His latest comments on The Central Park Five solidify everything I suspected about him. He clearly doesn’t see black people, or other people of color, as equals."
Anakwah fears the toxic climate created by the Trump campaign won't dissipate once the election season is over.
"The biggest and most unsettling emotion I have about this election is fear," cookbook writer and mother Nandita Godbole told me. "The lack of regard for women's rights in general is likely to set women back, back to the dark ages!"
Trump's comments about working mothers hit Godbole in a very personal way. "I lost a job once because a man thought my responsibilities as a parent would interfere with my work responsibilities, because I was a woman."
Manhattan therapist Dr. Cynthia Grace has seen election anxiety in some of her patients, and feels a lot of it comes from a new sense of vulnerability. "I think a layer of something has been removed for a lot of people, women in particular" she tells SheKnows. "And that is a sense of protection." Coming after a summer of police shootings, the election has made people of color feel as if there's no end in sight.
One patient told Grace she was tearful after watching the debate, saying that "now she feels that there's no possibility of getting any protection in society." She perceives an aggression that's been unleashed in society at large, a sense of how many people "just don't value women and are likely to be very toxic and harmful to women." It feels like this election has made the world a more dangerous place for women.
Even Michelle Obama admitted in her recent speech that Trump's words and history had "shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted." In a way she shouldn't have predicted — I think we've all been blindsided by the toxicity of this season.
Every election is stressful. The American Psychological Association even has tips for coping with our Election Stress Disorder. But I think there's been an anxiety particular to women, especially women of color, this time around.
So how do we cope with these last few weeks of the election and whatever backlash follows its results?
SheKnows spoke with Grace and with therapist Dr. Laurie Moore for their suggestions for managing election anxiety.
Don't focus on feelings of hate; focus on love, respect and empowerment for self and others
"Don't give energy to people like [Trump] by hating him," she admonishes. "Stop and instead apply the energy to self-love and self-respect." In that way, she believes, Trump and people like him lose power. And if we feel ourselves getting sucked into the negativity, "forgive yourself and choose again to have loving, empowering and respectful thoughts."
"This is a time for women to get really strong and get in touch with who we are," she tells SheKnows. It's a time to dig deep for the strength we women have the capacity to generate for ourselves, collectively, as half the human race. "We're stronger and more powerful than what Trump is screaming about, so we can make him small."
Carve out time for yoga and meditation
Self-care is "extremely important" right now, Grace told SheKnows. "What we need to do right now is shore up our support." She recommends doing yoga, meditation and getting a massage if you can. If you're not already doing yoga or meditation, now is an excellent time to start. Grace recommends meditation apps like Calm or Oprah and Deepak Chopra's Meditation Experience.
Connect with supportive people
Grace recommends spending time in places that feel safe talking with like-minded people who can affirm your feelings and help you make sense of what's going on.
Limit your exposure to triggering media
Like many mental health professionals, Grace says we should limit our exposure to triggering videos. "There's one thing I can tell you as a psychologist," Grace says, "the brain sometimes does not know the difference between something happening in reality and something we're being exposed to through the media.
So especially if you're a woman with an abuse history, don't watch videos of Trump saying hurtful things about women and people of color. Don't watch footage of his rallies. Limit your exposure to material that raises memories of your own toxic experiences. It's not helpful.
Read thoughtful analysis
On the other hand, she says reading the analysis of such events can actually be helpful. Grace says, "I think people need that to make sense of something that feels very crazy right now."
Get professional help
Especially if you're having sleep difficulties, Grace suggests talking with a mental health professional. "Think about talking to someone. Anyone who can listen is a good start, but if it's really affecting you emotionally, think about getting professional help, just to check in." This doesn't mean you have to commit to a long-term psychotherapy program. It could be as simple as a one-time checkup. "Go to someone that you trust and say, 'I'm not feeling well, I'm wondering what this might be related to.'"
Be gentle with yourself
By all means, don't blame yourself for feeling stressed out. "There's no reason to think that because you're having a strong reaction to this that you're weak," Grace says. "It's reasonable to feel upset or anxious about this. I feel it! All that I know [as a psychologist], I still feel it."
Take some small action today
I'm a chronic worrier, so I've been reading Robert Leahy's book The Worry Cure. One of his suggestions for cutting off that worst-case-scenario projecting into the future we often do is to take some small action, something you can do today. So if you find yourself stressing over our impending apocalypse, stop and make a donation to your candidate or volunteer for your candidate or find something you can do today to make your world a better place, however small. Help someone carry their groceries in, anything.
See this as an opportunity
Connecting with others also opens the possibility for collective healing. "Donald Trump is bringing out the most disgusting parts of what's not cleansed out of our society, the most despicable parts of it," Moore says, but this exposure could inspire us to take back our own power. I asked Grace if she saw hope for Americans to learn and evolve from this election, and she said, "I'm very optimistic by nature and a lot of this has prompted people to talk about issues in a way that we haven't done before."
It's my hope that as we do the work to build our resilience at this time, we'll find the collective power to rise and rebuild a better world together in the years to come.