Managing Pre-Election Stress
2020 will be a year that most of us will never forget. Despite your political affiliation or beliefs, this election is bound to be difficult. While many of us feel divided, many of us are connected in feeling worried about the future of our country. Even now, thinking about November 3rd, you may begin to notice that you feel overwhelmed, anxious, enraged, scared, withdrawn, discouraged, or other feelings that naturally derive from an uncertain and high-stakes situation. You might be asking, “So what can I do?” Great question! Here’s a list of suggestions we compiled.
Figure out what you’re feeling and needing, and give yourself what you need. Election season can leave us feeling all kinds of things. If you’re having trouble identifying what you’re feeling, take a look at this list of feelings. Unpleasant feelings can be a sign that some of our needs aren’t being met. Take a look at this list of needs to trace some of your unpleasant feelings to your unmet needs. Needs can be met in a number of ways, so spend some time brainstorming how you can act to get some of your needs met, whether that’s increased safety by making a plan to exercise your political power, or increased order by organizing your space.
Attend to your self-care. Self care is a helpful response to re-balance your internal resources that get knocked around or depleted by the stresses of daily living. Effective self care can look like assessing where you’re depleted and intentionally working to replenish yourself. Spending too much emotional energy listening to others? Find ways to connect non-verbally like doing crafts next to someone, or making music. Noticing your heart rate never dips to a comfortable rate and your chest feels tight? Try deep belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) to lower your heart rate and calm your nerves. You can also follow the prompts in the above section and target your self care to include responding to your unmet needs.
Make a post-election self care plan. How are you going to take care of yourself the day after the election? Or if election results are pending for a few weeks? Check out our Managing Post-Election Stress blog post. You can also check out this election self care guide for more ideas.
Be mindful of maladaptive coping strategies. Have you noticed that you have begun to rely on unhealthy and ineffective coping strategies more than you usually would? (E.g. Avoiding classwork, isolating, drinking alcohol or using other drugs to change your mood, binge-eating, etc.) The goal of coping is to reduce stress and replenish emotional resources. Unfortunately, sometimes coping strategies that reduce stress in the moment don’t end up replenishing us. Take stock of your current coping strategies. Notice which ones feel good in the moment and keep you feeling better. Notice which ones feel good in the moment but leave you feeling lethargic or guilty. While binging Netflix, having a drink, and eating sweets can feel easy and comforting in the moment, practicing moderation with these activities can allow you to engage in them while also aligning with your values and your ultimate goals of feeling replenished and healthful.
Adopt additional coping strategies. Shifting from maladaptive coping to healthy coping can take practice, but will likely leave you feeling the positive effects in your body, mind, and spirit. What helpful and healthy coping strategies do your friends or family members have? You can keep a list of activities you know help you reduce stress and don’t have consequences to navigate-- like taking a nature walk, spending time doing crafts, or playing music.
Set limits on your screen time. It can be difficult to limit our exposure to stimuli that contribute to higher levels of stress. Now that much of school is online, getting stuck in a news wormhole can be as easy as switching from one browsing window to another—a temptation that may be present for most of your day. Take stock of how you feel when browsing the news at different points in the day. How much news do you need to consume to feel connected? Assess your boundary with regard to news time and screen time and set limits for yourself.
Focus on what you can control. As you will read about more in the Managing Post-Election Stress blog post, taking stock of how you can influence your situation and acting based on your values can increase a sense of agency and empowerment. What power do you have over influencing the election outcome you want? Can you call 5 friends and make sure they’re voting? Determine what actions are within your control and make a plan to act in alignment with your values.
For more ideas of how to unplug, be present, refuel, connect and engage, check out this Election Stress Management Kit produced by Penn State Harrisburg Psychological Services using resources from Michigan State University and California State University Longbeach. This resource has been edited to include links to resources available to Loyola students.