This election season in the U.S. is more stressful than ever before (and that’s saying something).
Some common difficulties I’ve been hearing about include doomscrolling, feeling hurt and unsupported when friends and family hold discriminatory views, and fear and hopelessness about the future.
All of these feelings and MORE are completely valid. And the question is… what do you DO with them??
I’ve created an acronym to help you cope with the days preceding November 3 and beyond. When dealing with election season stress, just ASK PETE. NOT Buttigieg, for goodness sake. Just… a hypothetical Pete.
Accept that this is Hard
Turn Off News, Social Media
This post will explore each of these skills, how to do them, and how they will help you.
1. Accept that this is Hard
Most people are having a really hard time in this current political climate, for a multitude of reasons.
One of those reasons that social media and apps are intentionally designed to maintain our attention with quick serotonin hits.
News outlets intentionally publish negative stories because they get better ratings (the psychology behind that is for another blog post!).
Many Americans feel that their basic rights are being neglected and trampled over. Even if you don’t personally feel that way, so many people around you do. We pick up on that energy, consciously or subconsciously.
So it’s not easy. Even if it seems like others are coping with it better than you are, they probably aren’t. Remember that people often choose the best parts of their life to show on social media.
2. Self Care
You are probably sick of hearing about self-care. But it is SO IMPORTANT, which is why it has become such a buzzword.
Self-care is not necessarily scheduling vacations and bubble baths.
More than that, self-care is about the basics. Remembering to drink water, take your meds, eat at regular times, and breathe. Stretching and taking walks are also important.
Many of us (cough cough, me) wait until we are already exhausted and burnt out to do self-care. Ideally, you’ll do it preventatively, even planning ahead for stressful days.
One suggestion a dear friend made is to take the day after election day off. If you know you’ll be up late watching the election results come in, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Maybe even come up with something relaxing to do the day after the election, like go for a walk in a local nature preserve.
3. Keep Laughing
Please follow some meme accounts – about politics or about other stuff. Follow singers and dancers on TikTok. Better yet, make some goofy TikToks.
I’m serious. Laughter is really good for us, and it’s important.
4. Preserve Energy
DO NOT ARGUE WITH PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET.
You will not change anyone’s mind. You will walk away with frustration at best, death threats at worst.
If you *really* want to have political conversations with folks, have them with your family members and friends, in person, and listen more than you talk.
You don’t have to do that either, though. Especially if their views denigrate your personhood, or they are toxic or abusive people. IT IS NOT WORTH IT. There are so many other ways to make a difference politically.
That leads me to my second point: Don’t try to do everything all at once.
If you want to become more involved in activism, give what you can give, in the areas of expertise or interest that you have. Make your own corner of the world better, and trust that others are doing the same.
5. Express Emotions
Common emotions that come up around election time include… ANGER. FURY!! Sadness. Fear. Guilt.
When we push these emotions down or aside, they find ways to pop back up – like whack-a-mole. They might pop back up as irritability, anger outbursts, irritable bowels, muscle tension and pain… the list goes on.
When we allow ourselves to sit with and process emotions, we have more control over them.
Here are some ideas for adaptive ways to express these emotions:
- Talk to someone
- Write in a journal
- Work with clay or knead dough
- Listen to, sing, or make music
6. Turn off the News & Social Media
You do not have to watch the news. Not even the debates (or now I guess “town halls”??). You definitely do not have to follow 45 on Twitter.
What I often hear from people when I say this is, “…but I want to stay informed!”
I get that. But we can all agree the presidential debate was in no way informative. On the contrary, several clients actually told me it was re-traumatizing due to dynamics similar to their families of origin.
There are SO many ways to stay informed. The New York Times Daily podcast gives a brief summary of the most important news every day. You can learn the highlights from friends or family.
If you’re still hesitant to disconnect, at least consider giving yourself a break. A night or even an hour in which you turn off all news-related notifications on your phone. Better yet, you might establish a time every evening when you choose to put down your phone.
Not only is the AMOUNT of content we consume important, but so is the content itself.
Notice how specific Instagrams, TikToks, news websites, and Facebook posts make you feel.
If you’re not sure how you feel, observe what’s happening in your body. Is your heart pounding? Are your shoulders and neck tense? Is there a pit in the bottom of your stomach?
Unfollow and mute anything that that drains energy from you.
By the same token, FOLLOW accounts that will help you feel empowered, validated, and hopeful. You may consider following hashtags like #bodypositive, #mentalhealthmatters, and #anxietyrelief to find accounts that uplift you.
I hope ASK PETE helps you cope with election season stress. Hang in there. And remember, there are a lot of good things and people happening in the world. They just don’t get shown on the news.
Rebecca Ogle, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who provides compassionate tele-therapy through a politicized lens. She helps folks heal from anxiety, depression, people-pleasing and burnout using their strengths and inner wisdom.