An October 2020 report from the American Psychological Association says that two-thirds of Americans consider the presidential election a “significant source of stress in their life.” Try these strategies to help you mindfully manage election stress.
Because STRESS just happens to be one of my specialties (both as a practitioner of it and a mindfulness instructor helping people alleviate it), I’ve created a helpful guide for you to mindfully manage your election stress:
Just remember the acronym STRESS.
Say, “Help Me Understand.”
A major source of election stress may be disagreements with friends, family members, or co-workers about candidates or issues. We may find ourselves engaging in conversations with the intention of arguing our case or defending our positions. If this is the case, a helpful strategy is to say, instead, “Help me understand. Help me understand why you support such-and-such.”
Mindfulness teaches us to not hold too tightly to the rightness of our own positions — which is a tall order in politics! We can begin this practice by understanding the positions of others.
Before launching into an argument, try to understand the other person’s view. You don’t have to agree with them, but knowing the reasons for their position may help you find a point of connection, a recognition of your common humanity. You may realize you both, in fact, value things like safety and security, but have very different ideas about the strategies to meet those universal needs. And at that point, you can probably have a more productive conversation.
The greatest political danger we face right now is not that the other side will win, but that we will continue to see the other side as “other.” Regardless of the outcome of any race, we must recognize that as local and national communities, we are in this together. This is as incredibly difficult as it is vitally important.
Stress is a feeling of being out of control, a sense of having no power to change things or make a situation better. When we act, we gain a valuable sense of agency and power. This is good news for election stress, because elections are all about action!
So act. Educate yourself about local candidates. Vote. Help others make a plan to vote. Volunteer. Write postcards.
And continue to take responsible civic action after the election, too. Even if the outcome is not what you hope it to be, you still have an incredible amount of power in your community to effect change through your loving energy and action.
No matter the cause of your stress, REST is always an important part of the solution.
And there are many ways to rest: Go to bed early. Take a nap. Practice mindful breathing for five minutes. Give yourself a hand massage. Sip a warm beverage. Just rest!
Envision the worst case scenario.
This may seem counterintuitive, but research shows that when we consider the worst possible outcomes, we 1) mentally prepare ourselves for the undesired possibility, and 2) discover that it’s not as bad as we think it is.
I actually forced myself to do this recently, and honestly, it helped. I reminded myself of all the other institutions in this country that share in governing, from local to state to national levels. And I took a lot of deep breaths.
I’m not saying we can’t be disappointed — there are times when I’ve been a “sore loser” after an election, because the outcome felt so devastating and painful, or the future seemed so uncertain. But knowing “I have a plan” for meeting uncertainty helps me prepare for, well, uncertainty.
Step Away From the News.
It’s our duty as citizens to be informed. But it’s also our duty as human beings to ensure we are safe to be around! If the news is making you angry and stressing you out, turn it off. It will be there in an hour (believe me!). Go back to Step R (rest), and return to the news later. When you engage with the news from a place of clarity and stability, you will be able to do Step T (take action) much more effectively!
See the Good.
Typically, over half of the political ads we see each day are negative — bashing an opponent or playing upon our fears and insecurities. These ads are probably effective because of our brain’s negativity bias — we are much more likely to pay attention to and remember negative events because they are more relevant to our survival.
That means we have to work a bit harder to see the good — but it is ALWAYS there. Set an intention today to look for five good things about your life and our world. Elections tend to steer us toward apocalyptic thinking, but there is still kindness and beauty in our world.
And that will still be true on November 4.
Sarah Rudell Beach taught high school social studies for 17 years. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Minnesota, and is a licensed teacher in the state of Minnesota. She served in the Wayzata Public Schools from 1998 to 2015, and was honored as an Esteemed Teacher seven times by the district. Additionally, she writes about mindfulness, mindful teaching, and mindful parenting for the Huffington Post.
Sarah has had a personal mindfulness practice for many years, and describes mindfulness as life-changing. She firmly believes that teaching compassionate attention and self-care to students, teachers, parents, and families can change the world.