This year has already done its best impression of a blockbuster horror film, but it's not over yet.The last thing you might feel prepared for is how to cope with post-election stress, but here you are, in the first week of November, preparing for anything — perhaps the only valuable lesson this year has taught us. Leading up to the election, many have battled with anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, and confusion. Now that the votes have been cast, and the country nervously await the results, those feelings might be bubbling to the surface.
So what can you do if you're feeling absolutely hopeless and want to protect yourself by fearing the worst? "Remind yourself this is not a doomsday situation," Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Bustle in 2016, after President Trump was elected in an upset. While the president's power has a profound effect on the country — a reality that cannot be understated – the moral of the last four years is that community support will carry us through.
While there might be temptation to curl up in ball under a weighted blanket and hide from reality, confronting the possibilities of what might occur will leave you in a better place, mentally. These are some simple ways to set yourself up to handle whatever may come in the next few days.
Stay In Touch
"My advice to you and to myself is to turn towards your friends and family, and reassure yourself that the world will go on," therapist Aimee Hartstein, L.C.S.W. tells Bustle. Though you might feel like you need to be alone, talking to a friend on the phone or on Zoom will be a helpful way to find support when you need community the most. So check in with friends and family, vent about your stress, or even talk about something completely unrelated, just get out of your head.
Use A Mantra
Sometimes just a few inspiring words can help ground you. "No matter how little joy you may feel right now, try to do something that spreads joy, either for yourself or for others," Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Mantras can be so useful when coping with stress that seems extreme. Whether your mantra focuses on hope, acceptance, or another positive feeling, don't underestimate the power of words that you tell yourself," she says.
Yogi Andrea Curry suggests repeating the phrase "SO HUM' over and over silently to yourself. "SO HUM means 'I am that' in Sanskrit and is the reminder that we are all connected through our joys and our struggles," she says. Curry says to set a timer for five minutes as you sit and speak this phrase. "Your mind will wander. That is very normal. When you notice your mind wandering simply (and without judgement) bring your focus back to SO HUM."
Take A Step Back
Amsellem tells Bustle, "when you realize you're hitting an uncomfortable level of discomfort, surround yourself with calm," adding that avoiding social media for a few hours can be hugely impactful on your mood. Meditation expert and wellness coach Kama Hagar echoes this sentiment, suggesting you "log off this week and stay off until you're more settled and ready to let anything external in — as your personal processing doesn't need the influence of hundreds of others." Instead, turn on some music, take a bath, watch something funny, talk to a friend, read, or listen to a meditation app. Anything that brings you joy is going to be worth your energy right now.
Talk a walk, seriously. Even if it's cold, even if it's rainy. Bundle up, put your mask on, find a socially distanced route and keep your phone in your pocket. "Endorphins from the movement will flow and bring more joy, fresh air will bring new perspective and greater clarity," Hagar tells Bustle.
Stop The Thought Cycle
"If your anxiety is an expert, it has you going way in advance, so to combat this you will need tools to break the cycle of anxious thoughts," therapist Mendi Baron, L.C.S.W., tells Bustle. "One of the effective methods is to picture a large red stop sign whenever anxiety provoking thoughts enter your head," she explains. Other methods might include changing scenery — whether that means going into another room or going outside for some fresh air — taking a break to do something fun, or prioritizing self-care. The second you notice you're stuck in a negative thought cycle, get up and make a physical change, whether it's giving yourself a facial, turning on a movie, or having a snack in another room.
Do Some Good
Just because you might be worried that America won't live up to its potential this election, doesn't mean you can't. Hold yourself to a high standard. "Continue to do good in the world, help others less fortunate than yourself, and try to live up the ideals that you were hoping to find in your president," Hartstein tells Bustle. Spend some time brainstorming ways to volunteer or align yourself with causes that you can advocate for on social media.
See If Your Workplace Offers Mental Health Support
If you're feeling like you don't have the resources you need to get through the feelings you're having, take advantage of your workplace resources if there are any available. Look for employee assistance programs (EAP) that provide free, confidential short term counseling. "If you feel there could be more done to support you and others at your company, inquire about that — there are experts who can offer soothing tips and tools," Hagar tells Bustle.
"If your favorite candidate doesn't win the election, your mind might churn with stories based on fears and judgments," Joy Rains, Author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind, tells Bustle. "The reality is that you don’t know what the future holds. Rather than imagining negative scenarios, try to stay in the immediacy of the present moment."
Focus On What You're Grateful For
"Our election season coincides with the holidays and can be a tremendously difficult time for some, " psychologist, Jennifer Rhodes, Ph.D., tells Bustle. "Gratitude can help mitigate depression — taking the time to speak with people you love about what you are grateful for will help tremendously," she says. While you can't control the outcome of the election, you can control how you react to it, and though it might be very difficult to muster gratitude, it's a valuable use of your energy and might broaden your perspective just enough to feel balanced. Whether it's Zoom, your pet, PSLs, or your job, there's something in your life that you find valuable and it will feel good to acknowledge it.
Like, literally. "If anxiety is becoming heightened and other methods are not serving to control it, try placing a cold rag/bag of ice/bag of frozen peas over the top half of your face (forehead to under the nose)," counselor Tabitha Westbrook, L.P.C.A., tells Bustle. "This triggers the mammalian dive reflex and tells your brain it needs to slow down. With the brain slowing down, your body chemistry also slows down and the stress hormones begin to reabsorb into your blood stream." While this is not a longterm solution, it can help to get you out of a tough moment and give you a chance to reset.
Stick To Your Routine
Though you might feel like the last thing you can do is what you're supposed to do, sticking to your routine is crucial — structure can reduce anxiety. "I tell my clients not to let the election overtake them," therapist Shemiah Derrick, M.A., tells Bustle. "There are a multitude of things that one individual person cannot control. I am urging them to stick to their routine —focus on work, exercise, make dinner and do whatever they would on a normal day. This can help to give them control and provide a distraction over something they cannot."
“Even just five minutes of mindful breathing can calm your nervous system and reduce stress," wellness expert Jamie Price, tells Bustle. "It also helps to name your emotions, which can have the effect of diminishing their force and intensity," she adds.
But if focusing on your breathing is a stressful task, not a calming one, Hagar says to give yourself some homework to make breathing more interactive. "Focus on your five senses, notice what you hear, what you see, what you smell, what you taste, and what you feel, physically." Or, focus on the temperature of your inhales and exhales. "Notice how the inhales are cooler and the exhales are warmer — keep your awareness on this temperature-change. Boring? Sure. Calming? Absolutely."
Research has shown that focusing on acts of kindness can boost your sense of happiness and overall wellbeing. "If you take the time to look, you may find that acts of kindness are not as rare as you might think, especially during the election," Price says. "Start taking a mental note of the acts of kindness that are occurring all around you and let them inspire you to engage in some of your own." Yes, being nice can actually make you feel better.
Feel Your Feelings
While you should take advantage of the tools available to you to minimize the amount of stress you're going through, it might feel natural to also give into your feelings, in which case you should, for certain periods of time. Set a timer and let yourself emote. "Lean into the disappointment and the grief," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "Feel it. Cry it out. Get angry. You don't have to be positive today. You don't even have to be positive tomorrow. You need to experience it." But then reel it back in, use your tools, and keep putting energy into things that make you feel good — or at the very least, things that don't make you feel more anxious.
Aimee Hartstein, L.C.S.W., therapist
Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist
Andrea Curry, yogi, wellness expert
Kama Hagar, mediation expert and wellness coach
Mendi Baron, L.C.S.W., therapist
Jamie Price, wellness expert
Kali Rogers, life coach
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