BY KAREN CARLONI, LCPC
I THOUGHT LONG AND HARD ABOUT WHAT TO SAY ON THIS TOPIC.
THIS IS NOT A SUBJECT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.
ELECTION STRESS WILL LIKELY NOT END ON ELECTION DAY.
The fact is that once the votes are counted and a victor is declared subsequent feelings and discussions will bleed over into the holidays and the divisions between points of view will co-exist right along with your Thanksgiving turkey, your Christmas eggnog or your Hannukah latkes.
The mood of the country and the magnitude of the divide will most likely vary with the successes and failures of the next administration. The question, the really hard question, is how will you come out of this as unscathed as possible, with relationships and values intact?
Can it be done?
Knowing signs of stress and overwhelm and making choices in line with what is best for your emotional health requires some deep consideration of what is most important to you along with taking some steps toward good mental hygiene.
Signs of stress and anxiety may include a host of symptoms.
COGNITIVE SYMPTOMS MIGHT INCLUDE ISSUES WITH:
Memory, concentration, judgment, negativity and constant worrying.
EMOTIONAL SYMPTOMS MIGHT INCLUDE ISSUES WITH:
Anxiety, moodiness, overwhelm, unhappiness and loneliness.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS MIGHT INCLUDE ISSUES WITH:
Gastrointestinal upset, loss of sex drive, nausea and aches and pains.
BEHAVIORAL SYMPTOMS MIGHT INCLUDE ISSUES WITH:
Eating more or less, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawing from others, procrastination, substance use and nervous habits such as nail biting.
The longer the stressor is present the more pronounced and debilitating the symptoms may become.
While the election is a single day event the emotions surrounding it may last longer. For this reason, we need to take this issue seriously.
HOW TO MANAGE ELECTION ANXIETY.
Self-Care is a well-worn but under-utilized strategy. Sure, you can meditate, take a bubble bath or eat some really good quality chocolate but the kind of self-care I am referencing here begins with self-assessment and results in action steps to preserve your well-being.
Let’s assess: Do you enjoy politics or do you see participation in the democratic process as a necessary evil? Maybe you avoid it altogether. Know yourself and your tolerance for politics.
If you don’t enjoy politics then self-care might begin with simply staying out of political conversations on social media or in person.
Behaviorally, this means planning a handy exit speech, “Oh yes, that is interesting, lately I have been experimenting with improving my tennis serve….” Curating your social media feed and time on social media is another action that will help preserve your peace of mind.
If you do enjoy politics but also find yourself getting overwhelmed when discussing them, you can think of this in terms of “green-yellow-red” discussions.
“Green” political conversations are a “go”. These are when passionate discussion does not lead to ad-hominem attacks or excitability in either party.
“Yellow” political conversations are those where warning bells might go off in the form of physiological indications of stress or anger during the discussion. If you note increased heart rate or musculoskeletal tension, you might want to consider treading lightly, expressing curiosity about the other person’s viewpoint rather than pressing your own or moving the conversation to something else entirely.
Paying attention to when a conversation turns “yellow” avoids the “red” zone and potentially negative consequences of political discussions.
“Red” political conversations are those where both people are physiologically activated, ability to listen and take in information declines and relationships are threatened as a result. These are the kind of conversations that make others around you uncomfortable and can and do result in long term damage to relationships. For tips on navigating these waters there are a lot of sources, click here.
Decide about watching the election returns. You can exercise choice. Is political theater your thing? If it is, pop some popcorn and enjoy.
If it creates stress and anxiety consider planning another activity, something that makes you feel good. You might consider a creative outlet like an art project or playing an instrument. You might consider a zoom cocktail party with one of your friends or family members who also wants to avoid election day. You might want to get some exercise or do some meal prep for the week ahead that evening. Here is a list of ideas (some may not be practical with social distancing):
After election planning includes thinking about how to navigate the post-election holidays with grace. While Covid-19 is still impacting travel and size of gathering this is also a good time to think about how you will navigate the political landscape with relatives and friends as well as make safe choices.
Get clear on your values. How do those values apply to the sharing of opinion versus the preservation of relationships? Once you are clear on what is important to you, preserving relationships in ways that reflect your values will be an easier.
When you find yourself stressed and uncomfortable consider how your choices align with those values. Here are some ideas on having differences of opinion without major disruption.
Taking breaks from social media and politics at large just after the election may be the strategy you need to get the stress and anxiety under control. Think about how you can significantly reduce the stimuli that is directly impacting your well-being.
Even if you love politics you may benefit from thinking about the opportunity cost of spending your time in this area versus other things you care about. For detox tips take a look at this article.
If the election and subsequent emotions around it don’t abate and you find that you are having functional impairments at work and in relationships you may want to consider eTherapy. The chronic and prolonged experience of isolation, global worry, and family distress that has accompanied Covid 19 has challenged the most basic coping skills of individuals and families.
This has magnified the importance and psychological effect of this election.
Sometimes we feel that fitting therapy into our schedules financially, emotionally or logistically is not practical. However, the wide availability of convenient tele-therapy options makes therapy an accessible investment in yourself, your relationships and peace of mind.
Karen Carloni, LCPC, is licensed in both Maryland and South Carolina with decades of clinical experience working with adolescents, adults, couples and families.
Schedule a FREE consultation with Karen.