The news cycle this year has been unsettling, and election coverage has only been gas on the fire.
It’s so easy to be completely drawn in by minute-by-minute polling updates, think-pieces, articles, social media posts — until the first Tuesday of November is all you’re thinking about, talking about, worrying about. And it can become overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being involved. We have a duty to be informed, conscious voters and active participants in our nation’s future. And I love putting on my “I used to work in politics” hat for a little post-debate analysis. But especially when we creep this close to a big election, that laser focus can swell beyond interest and flare into full-on panic.
At the end of the day, no amount of anxious thinking is going to make even the most minuscule difference in what happens on election day. But it’s also not as simple as just saying, “Don’t worry so much.” When we’re consumed with anxiety and panic, it’s sometimes easier — and feels safer — to just dig in and burrow into a thought spiral. The more intentional and active path, though, is the one that’s far more worth it in the end.
Coping with anxious thoughts looks pretty much the same whether those thoughts are about how we look to other people or about the future of our democracy and our world. There are some simple steps we can each pledge to take over these next few weeks to help process what we’re feeling without letting it consume us.
One of the great things about anxiety surrounding the election is that there is, at least to an extent, something we can do. Instead of refreshing FiveThirtyEight.com every five minutes waiting for another poll, take a few moments to sign up and make a difference with a cause you feel passionate about.
This can be something direct, like phone or text banking for a candidate you believe in. Or maybe you can reach out to someone in your community and see how you can help make sure voters are prepared to safely vote by mail or in person. You can take some time to understand what’s on the ballot in your community and how you can make a direct impact close to home.
No matter how you choose to be active in the process, you’ll be working toward real change and funneling your energy in productive ways.
Set limits for yourself
Therapists will often recommend a practice called “worry management,” which involves a sort of compartmentalizing of anxieties in a way that gives back some control. An anxious person will set aside a certain amount of time in a day, maybe 30 minutes, in which their only task is to worry about whatever’s plaguing them. After that time, when an anxious thought appears, the person reminds him or herself that the time to worry about it for the day has passed. This allows a person to set some parameters around the thoughts they’re having: I’ve worried, thought it through, panicked, and it’s done. No need to dwell.
This kind of practice can be set up very literally for election fear — I’m only going to think about politics today from 7:30 to 8 pm — or a little less directly by setting limits on the amount of time you spend on Twitter, or watching the news, or reading polls. I’ve personally noticed that the longer I spend on Twitter, the more a looming sense of dread consumes me — so I know to set limits on how often I’m giving that platform my mental energy, especially when I’m already feeling anxious.
Another way of setting limits can involve getting anxious thoughts out of your head. Maybe you call a friend and agree to vent about stress for five to ten minutes, then move on and have an enjoyable conversation. Or you can write your thoughts down, chart them out, draw them in a picture — whatever works best for you. Sometimes when your mind can’t get off of a fear, writing down the full thought process of coping through that fear is enough to break the cycle.
We’re all feeling a bit lonely, and stir-crazy, and stuck. And when we’re spending all our time inside our homes or apartments, we can feel hopeless. We’re bored, and there’s not much to do besides worry.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get out of your space, even if you can’t stray far from home safely. Take a walk around the block or explore open spaces in your neighborhood if you can. If that’s not safe or possible where you live, find other ways to move outside your day-to-day, typical space and time.
Rearrange one of the spaces in your apartment so it feels fresh and new. Call or Facetime a friend or family member and talk about anything but the election or the pandemic. See if you can run an errand for a neighbor who has trouble getting around. Make a pillow or blanket fort in your living room, and read a book inside it. Delve into coloring books, put together a puzzle, or teach yourself a new skill. This doesn’t have to be something productive — we all have friends who have mastered a new skill or published their novel during quarantine, but that’s not what this is about. The important thing is to open your mind and bring a new perspective into your life — whether you step foot out of the apartment or not.
Accept the anxiety — and wait
One of the hardest things to do with anxiety is also one of the most powerful: non-judgmentally accepting your feelings, allowing them to occur, and allowing yourself to move on. Throughout the election process, it’s going to be hard to think about anything but the election — and that’s okay. You are allowed to have the anxieties, the fears, and the uncertainties that are impacting you. But those fears are not allowed to control your life.
Accept the way you feel. Sit with it. Know that you are not any less worthy, or loved, or good, when you can’t get out of that rut. And then turn the TV off, continue your daily activities, and wait. The news of the outcome will find you one way or another, and there’s nothing more you can do to control it. But you can control the way you live your life before, during, and after the results come in.