As an immigrant and a queer woman of color, I remember waking up the day after Election Night 2016 filled with a sense of hopelessness. Whether you agree with my politics or voted for the person who is currently the president of the United States, it is now four years later and we are facing another possibly historic election. But as we get closer to it, I am also filled with an intense amount of election anxiety. And I know that I am not the only one.
Election anxiety, as you can imagine, is the stress we’re all feeling over the looming election of 2020. Earlier this year, a survey by Gartner found that 47% of workers say that the 2020 election has distracted them from doing their jobs. And as Election Night nears, all of the “election stress disorder” is getting worse. But you can do something about it, which is why we asked our Instagram audience for their very best self-care tips for relieving election anxiety.
As someone who deals with a generalized anxiety disorder (in fact, it was the reason why I drank) and is now a huge believer in self-care in recovery, I can definitely tell you one thing: Wine is NOT self-care. Instead, take a read at these 12 self-care ideas to relieve the stress and welcome in a much more pleasant 2021. At least, here’s hoping!
1. Take a social media break; use it more mindfully.
We get a lot of our news from social media and it can be great for connecting with friends, too. But social media can also have a dark side: Interacting with people who only want to argue about politics. And honestly, it can be exhausting. Instead, why not take a social media break?
There’s no wrong or right way to do this but some people prefer to delete their accounts while others just delete the apps off their phone or make rules for how often and when they will check. You can also do something else: Use social media more mindfully. For me, this means muting or unfollowing people who make me feel bad in any way. I’m also pretty quick to block “friends” who try to start arguments with me. I highly recommend this as a self-care practice, honestly.
2. Limit your news intake.
Let’s face it: One of the reasons that we all have election anxiety these days is because the news cycle just won’t stop. That was true before 2016, yes, but it feels as if the past four years have been a never-ending cycle of more and more horrible news… so let’s just take a break, okay?
You don’t have to completely ignore bad news because, well, that’s not going to help anyone. And it’s also an incredible privilege to be able to take a break from the news, but it may be necessary for some. So when you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, commit to taking a day or a weekend off. Or maybe just plan to check only one news outlet and not endlessly scroll through Doom Twitter. You can also channel some of that news-reading energy into action. For instance, instead of reading the news, go vote, or call registered voters, or ask three friends what their plan to vote is. That way, you can log off the news while still knowing that you are taking action. Then, when you’re feeling a bit more refreshed, you can go back to your regular news reading… and take a break again, if needed.
3. Go outside into nature.
Going outside can be quite healing. Not only can you literally have a breath of fresh air but you can also disconnect. It’s important during these dark and anxious times that we do whatever we can to feel better, and seeing open skies and greenery can help remind us that there is something outside of ourselves and politics.
When you’re feeling particularly anxious, take a break and take a walk. Put on your sneakers and get outside, whether that’s in your own neighborhood, a city park, or on a walking trail in your town. Sometimes, just sitting and looking out into nature in your own backyard can be a big help.
4. Don’t look at your phone at night.
We all have probably already heard this advice but it must be said again: Put your phone down at night. If you’re hoping to get some better sleep and not spend your last waking moments doom scrolling through the news, then follow the tried-and-true advice of putting your phone down at least an hour before bedtime.
I have been doing this for a few months now and, truthfully, it helps. Not only does it give my mind a break from all of that election and news anxiety but it also lets my eyes rest and relax before I nod off to bed. This hour without your phone is also a good time to do some other self-care practices such as take a bath, read a book, or listen to your favorite sobriety podcast.
5. Meditate or find other mindfulness practices.
Meditation can be a really great way to get out of your head and get into your body. At least, that’s the purpose of having a mindfulness practice; to be in the present moment. If you don’t yet have a meditation practice, now might be a good time to start (even if you’re the kind of person who can’t sit still). You can even try a moving meditation to calm your mind.
The other option is to embrace a mindfulness practice in general. Mindfulness simply means being in the present moment, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be you sitting in the lotus position and chanting. Instead, journaling first thing in the morning can be a mindfulness practice. Reading can be a mindfulness practice. Even listening can be a mindfulness practice. Personally, I have gotten really into coloring books and paint-by-numbers as a mindfulness practice. I don’t do it every day but, when I do, it feels… peaceful.
6. Go to bed early. Take a nap.
I have been a sleep evangelist ever since I read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams a couple of years ago. There are so many advantages of getting good sleep that I still can’t quite understand why so many of us don’t make an effort to do so. But, at the same time, I can understand that anxiety can often keep us up or, even worse, wake us up in the middle of the night. That’s why a necessary self-care practice is to go to bed early and embrace naps.
Whether you’re the kind of person that functions best on nine hours of sleep (like me) or you’re struggling with insomnia, there are many reasons why good sleep should be a top priority. For the entire month of October, I made a commitment to go to bed early (at 8:30pm!) and it has been a revelation. I’m not saying that is the right time for everyone to go to sleep, of course, but I do urge you to try it at least several nights a week and see how you feel. And if you’re lucky enough to work from home as many of us are during the pandemic, why not sneak in a lunchtime nap, too? It can be quite refreshing to get more rest. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
7. Create a comfortable space.
Creating a cozy space for yourself to go to when you are not feeling great is a good strategy for calming you down. For me, that means sneaking off to my hammock outside and laying there for 10 minutes while the breeze blows on my skin and I breathe in fresh air. Before, I had a favorite chair set up with a little table next to it, with a candle and a good book.
Your comfortable space can be anything. It can be a whole room or just a corner of your home. It can even be something you move around, like a favorite fuzzy blanket and vase with flowers that you can move around your house to wherever you need to snuggle that day. Create this comfortable space with the goal of having a peaceful, distraction-free area where you can just relax or, say, indulge in a pint of ice cream.
8. Watch happy TV.
Just as with the news, I’m not advocating for ignoring everything else going on in the world. Instead, I think there is a time and place for giving yourself a break and letting your brain focus on something that isn’t your election anxiety. For many of us, that might just mean watching a few hours of Netflix.
The biggest suggestion I can make here is to make time in your day to specifically watch what I call “happy TV”. Basically, this means rewatching old favorites and indulging in new comedies. Right now, my partner and I are going through the Golden Girls catalog and watching Schitt’s Creek. You might want to re-watch Seinfeld or try Emily in Paris. Then there’s Working Moms or Brooklyn Nine-Nine or The Good Place or… You get the idea.
9. Take a mental health day.
I have been taking a mental health day every quarter or so since my very first job in 2007. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time because, to be honest, I didn’t know much about mental health (or that I had anxiety) and a “mental health day” certainly wasn’t in my vocabulary. All I knew was that I was feeling really tired and needed a day off, so I called in sick. This election season, we’re ALL feeling really tired… so we all have to take a much-needed mental health day.
You may need to take a mental health day before the election happens but I highly recommend taking one on Wednesday, November 4th. The truth is that we probably won’t know the results of the 2020 election until a few weeks after due to the amount of mail-in ballots that we are likely to get. But, still, taking a day off to focus on everything BUT the election is always going to be a good idea. Plus, let’s admit it, we’re probably all going to be burnt-out in a couple of weeks ad taking a day to just… laze around, read, and take an epic bubble bath sounds like heaven to me.
10. Get your blood pumping.
Just like getting outside is good for you, so is movement. Now, I’m not saying that you have to go out and run 5 miles but I *am* suggesting that you do something to get your body moving in order to quell that election anxiety. You could take up yoga, biking, walking around the block, or even weightlifting. Whatever suits your tastes and abilities.
Personally, I try to attend a Zoom Zumba class on Saturdays. But really, anything works. Even spending half a day organizing your closet from summer to fall and winter clothing could count! Whatever you do, just make sure that it is something that you can repeat for those days when your anxiety is particularly high. You can even do some simple stretches of your Psoas muscle to relieve tension.
11. Think about how you can impact the future.
It’s really easy to look around the world right now and feel helpless. I get it. Hopefully, you are able to vote (here’s a state-by-state guide on how to vote and information on what to do if you can’t vote)… but now what? The truth is, voting is not enough. We all need to get involved in improving our communities and our countries in one way or another. And you know the best part? Getting involved doesn’t have to be totally stressful or take up a ton of your time (unless you have a ton of time to give) or even mean opening your wallet.
Recently, I started listening to the How to Save a Planet podcast and what I love most about it is that, even though each episode focuses on some horrible consequence of climate change, the hosts end each podcast with a take-home idea of how you can improve something in your own community. I want all of us to think deeply about the issues we truly care about, and then go out and find an organization fighting for those issues and volunteer in some way. For some of us with financial means, that may mean donating money. For others, it may mean donating their time. You can help organize, send emails and postcards, make food for the unhoused, start a virtual food drive, manage a community organization’s social media account, or whatever it is that puts your skills to good use to help impact the future. It might sound daunting at first but, once you get involved, I promise you’ll start to feel better about the world. You can do this. We all can.
12. Remember that all things pass.
Breathe in, breathe out, and then remind yourself that this too shall pass. Yes, things are bad right now. Yes, things have been bad before. Yes, things will be bad again. But at some point, we have to just learn to let go.
This advice is maybe more difficult to take than others but the truth is that we all can only do so much. We can vote, we can organize, we can march, we can protest, we can write, we can go to therapy, we can relieve our anxiety with brownies… but at the end of the day, the election of 2020 will be decided one way or another. Whether or not you think the results are fair, I encourage you to work on letting it go, and living to fight another day. Remember: All things pass.
The election anxiety is real and, truth be told, we’ll probably be feeling it throughout November if journalists and experts’ predictions that we won’t have results on Election Night come true. But no matter how stressed out you are right now (and trust me, I know it’s probably REALLY stressed out), learning to take care of yourself as you hopefully take care of others (by voting!) is important, too. So whether you put your phone down an hour early each night or run around the block, do what you can for your self-care today. And always.