“Hey, you hanging in there okay?”
“How are you holding up?”
“Take care of yourself!”
If your texts look anything like mine, the pre-election, mid-pandemic stress levels you and your friends and loved ones have been navigating have shifted into some full-blown election day anxiety. It makes sense. Between a global pandemic and a deeply tumultuous year in terms of politics, the 2020 election signals a pivotal moment for what we can imagine the next four years to look like — and that’s bound to get your brain spiraling. Whether you’ve already voted and you’re just in the waiting period or are braving the election day lines, it’s not the most positive brain environment for anyone right now.
“When we experience anxiety, we are essentially experiencing a fight/flight response in the body,” as Erica Curtis, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of The Innovative Parent: Raising Connected, Happy, Successful Kids Through Art, previously told SheKnows.”For example, muscles tense to act quickly or protect against injury, the heart pumps harder to oxygenate the muscles to mobilize. Even if there is no ‘real’ threat, when the brain thinks there is one, it mobilizes the body for self-protection. And because the survival part of the brain doesn’t differentiate between emotional or relational threat and physical threat, when we experience — or perceive — any threat, the part of the brain tasked with protecting you jumps into gear.”
If your body and mind is in warrior mode while you’re mostly waiting for results to trickle in (and acknowledging that the trickle will not be over and done with by tonight!), you might be in need of some wind-down tactics. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing anxiety, but here are a few tried and true methods that work to reduce stress for a lot of people — and a few tailored to the very specific cocktail of sociopolitical stress we’re navigating right now.
Breathe, Breathe and Breathe
This one’s a classic: but check in with your breath. If your anxiety is kicking up your physical symptoms or you just need something that isn’t a graph or a map or a needle to hold your attention, breathing exercises are your best friend. There are a few different techniques that can work, but one to try might be “even balance breathing” or Samma Vrtti.
And it’s just two steps:
Step 1: Inhale to the count of four.
Step 2: Exhale to the count of four.
“This type of breathing shuts off the stress response, activates the relaxation response and lowers blood pressure,” breath, yoga and meditation teacher Lauren Eckstrom, co-founder of Inner Dimension TV previously told SheKnows. “If breathing exercises like this are new to you, start with just a minute or two. It’s important to never overdo it and if you feel lightheaded, take a break. Try doing this exercise when making transitions. For example, do a minute of this breathing exercise in your car before walking back into your home at the end of the day or when transitioning from a work meeting to family time.”
Positive thoughts, affirmations & visualizations (they work!)
Positive affirmations and thinking can feel like such a corny ask when there’s a lot of negativity surrounding you. But they can be great tools — along with some positive visualizations — to disrupt a negative thought spiral.
Pick a mantra that helps calm you: “For example, your mantra might be, ‘All will be well. All will be good. Things will work out,” ”as Dr. Carla Marie Manly, author of Joy from Fear, previously told SheKnows “Repeat the mantra or phrase when you are calm and relaxed. Your brain will come to associate the gentle, supportive words with a positive, relaxed state. It can be helpful to repeat the words as you press a specific finger or place on your hand—’anchoring’ the calming energy into yourself. At the slightest hint of anxiety or stress, repeat the mantra or phrase. If it feels better to touch the anchoring place on your hand or finger, add in this element for greater benefit.”
You can also apply the positive energy to imagine a soothing, relaxing visual or image: a calming field, a soothing and joyful memory, a quiet and happy place. (You can even use a meditation app to help transport you somewhere that’s soothing.)
Leaving your screen behind and doing literally anything else can be a good way to reduce the election stress. (Maybe delete Twitter off your phone while you’re at it.) Go outside, read a book, step away to do an organizing, spring cleaning, longtime to-do project — whatever. Just see what can absorb your attention.
(And even if you are still needing a bit of screen time, things like the New York Times’ Election Distractor can help put your brain somewhere nicer.
Donate time and money to organizations doing work you care about
If you’re passionate about politics and worried about various issues facing the U.S., that energy isn’t only good during election cycles. Odds are there are some great groups doing year-round work in the realms of immigration rights, reproductive rights and justice, healthcare access, environmental justice, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ advocacy, etc. that could use your help. Making a plan to volunteer with some friends or to match donations to a non-candidate/election-centric mission is a way to stave off the overwhelming “I feel helpless” feelings.
When In Doubt, Treat Yourself
Finding a few small acts of self-care that you can incorporate into your day is easier said than done — but indulging a bit more while you’re stressed can help you fill the well and be ready to do what you need to do regardless of the results.
Before you go, check out our favorite mental health apps. Because you might need ’em: