2020, a year many of us have been dreading. It’s election season.
If you’ve been like me, the last four years under President Trump have been as stressful as they’ve been darkly hilarious. With everything Trump has done to our country, sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep from falling into the pits of despair. But the small elections we’ve had throughout the four years, in which Democratic candidates have won in large numbers, have paved the way for the final showdown, a battle for the White House. No one knows what will happen.
With the stakes as high as they are, it only makes sense that the anxiety people have been feeling will be ratcheted up exponentially this year. So much so that the “great meteor” meme of 2016 has even made its way back into the 2020 political landscape, with folks just wanting the slow, anxiety-ridden walk to the polls to be over. But you don’t have to resort to wishing for a meteor to hit in order to handle your anxiety. There are better ways, ways that affirm your life and your experiences and even propel you into action.
First things first is recognizing that you do, indeed, have anxiety, and that it’s normal, even valid to have your painful feelings. Too often, we invalidate the tougher emotions we have, and this is something I’ve dealt with intimately when it comes to my own personal mental health journey. But something we have to realize is that it is important to recognize your feelings–validate your emotional experiences–and recognize that there might be an unspoken emotion or need that is driving your anxiety. For instance, if you are worried about the election, what is it about the election that you’re worried about? If it boils down to the fact that you’re annoyed that you can’t control the outcome of the election to your favor, then the unspoken emotion in the anxiety is that you have issues with being out of control. You can then work on that deeper issue, which will provide you with the tools to handle the surface anxiety about the election, and anything else that causes you anxiety.
Just Mind, an Austin, TX-based counseling center, also talks about the importance of feeling your feelings.
“Denying or trying to minimize feelings of fear and anxiety can often even further interfere with daily functioning for people who are experiencing those symptoms,” states the center. “Instead, it’s important to allow yourself to express those feelings; for anxiety-related symptoms, however, this has been found to be most effective alongside talk therapy with a licensed clinician.”
While you’re trying to heal your triggers, it pays to outfit your surroundings to help facilitate your journey. In shorter terms, if you get triggered by politics, do your best to keep yourself away from triggering politics.
Therese Borchard wrote for Everyday Health about several ways people can handle election anxiety, some of which include blocking yourself from watching, listening to or reading triggering content. She writes:
“If political talk is generating a lot of anxiety for you, there are things you can do to avoid it:
-Change your home page or default website to a nonpolitical site.
-Log off of Twitter and Facebook until after the election (or check social media for 10 minutes at the end of the day instead of getting every notification throughout the day).
-Keep your news reading to a half-hour a day
-Ask friends and family to refrain from election talk. I have this rule with a group of my friends; we all have very different political views, and our conversations can quickly turn into arguments and heated debates. The election gives many of us anxiety, so we decided simply not to go there.”
Also, if you are a spiritual person who has issues with control, Borchard has the perfect prayer for you—the Serenity Prayer. Developed by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the prayer goes like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
But let’s say your fear is a little different from merely feeling out of control. Let’s say you also feel helpless about what to do regarding the direction of the country at the moment, and extremely nervous about the direction the country could go in depending on who sits in the White House come Inauguration Day 2021. If you’re willing to honor your feeling of helplessness, that will provide you with a path towards how to handle that emotion. The usual path is to take some semblance of action.
Take a small action that you can successfully achieve. Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University talked to NPR after the 2016 election about election anxiety and how taking action can help feelings of helplessness fade. He recognizes that sometimes, you do need to take a mental break from the news cycle. But if you want to feel like part of the solution, you have to figure out how to do something meaningful, however small, that provides solutions to the problem.
“This is a case where there’s a conflict between what democracy needs and what our individual mental health needs. So probably the best thing to do if you’re stressed out is to shut off all the TV, the social media and just try to tune it all out,” he said. “But that’s not good for democracy because we have to stay engaged. We have to go out and vote. We have to talk to each other. We have to participate and not just pull back because it’s really difficult. And I’d say if you’re feeling paralyzed, act. If you’re feeling anxious, do something constructive around the election for whatever cause you believe in, and you will feel better. And democracy will be better off for your engagement. And you can go on a long vacation the day after.”
If you feel emotionally inclined to take action during 2020, one thing you can do is spread the word about the importance of registering to vote. I have a page on my site where people can register to vote and check their registration status. You can link people to my page as a quick way to lead them to registering to vote. Or you can pass the infographic below along to people you know on your social media channels to inform them of how they can register. There are a lot of ways to get registered, so there is no excuse for anyone not to be ready to hit the polls come November.
Ultimately, you know what is best for your anxiety recovery. Maybe you might feel more comfortable just tuning everything out and investing more in your own health, such as exercising, eating and sleeping regularly, and sitting with your feelings. Or maybe you feel like you need to channel all of your anxiety into political action. Maybe you feel like you need to do a mix of the two. But no matter how you decide to positively tackle your election anxiety, you should feel proud of taking the first step towards your recovery—realizing you are mentally out of balance. You are in tune with your own emotions, and that’s already more progress than you think.
*Unless quoted from experts in the aforementioned articles, the advice I have given is from my own personal experience. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist; I am just a person who has had to get in the habit of taking charge of my own mental landscape through trial and error.