I’ve had a knot in my stomach for the last few weeks. I googled “signs of a panic attack” over the weekend. And last night I climbed into bed at 10 p.m., tossed, turned, and didn’t fall asleep until 3 a.m.. Sound familiar? You may have election stress, too. In fact, most Millennials are experiencing stress from the election. An October 2016 American Psychological Association survey found that 52 percent of Americans say that the 2016 election is “a very or somewhat significant” source of stress in their lives, and for Millennials, it’s even worse — 56 percent of Millennials have 2016 election anxiety.
And it makes perfect sense — there’s so much negativity surrounding this election: Those heated debates, the endless Twitter wars, and insult after insult (#NastyWomen for life). Friendships are ending, relationships and marriages are suffering, and most people think the election is bringing out the worst in people. The pessimism is even infiltrating into how people are voting: According to a September 2016 Pew Research report, for many Americans, their vote is more about the presidential candidate they’re against, not for. (Especially for the majority of Trump voters, where 53 percent say their vote is primarily against Clinton and 44 percent say their vote is in support of Trump.)
“At this point, ongoing negative rhetoric is beginning to take its toll,” Ken Yeager, Director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle. “The ongoing ‘crisis’ conversation and political catastrophizing has reached a new level of agitation. This has been amplified by social media and 24-hour news channels, live feeds, tweets, and seeming inability to disconnect from this election term.” And on Election Day, you’re probably feeling the most on-edge of all.
So how can you keep your anxiety in check luckily there are ways to keep your anxiety in check as you wait for the results?
Perhaps the most important thing you do is to check in with yourself and make adjustments accordingly. “If you are feeling scared, enraged, upset, or otherwise distressed, recognize when you’ve had enough and consider what you can do to feel better,” Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist, tells Bustle. “When you realize you’re hitting an uncomfortable level of discomfort, surround yourself with calm. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and don’t go online for a little while. Turn on some music, take a bath, take the dog for a walk, or listen to a meditation app. Breathe. Whatever it is that brings you calm, take that moment of calm unapologetically.”
Having trouble finding your calm, here are 21 ways to help chill out tonight as you wait for the results.
Instead of looking up one-way tickets to Canada, envision the victory you’re hoping for. “Close your eyes and imagine the way things will look and feel when things turn out the way you wanted,” Mendi Baron, LCSW, and founder/owner of several teen treatment centers in Southern California and New York, tells Bustle. “Remember, no matter what you do, time moves forward and soon enough the moment you are waiting for will come and go and you will be on the other side. So picture the win and buckle in.”
Buddy system is clutch today. “My best advice is to not go through Election Day alone! Find a buddy to head to the polls with — not only will this give you a chance to talk about your feelings (excitement, fear, stress), which can be helpful, but it will also get others to the polls as well,” Dr. Jennifer Caudle, Family Physician, Assistant Professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, tells Bustle.”But, the buddy system doesn’t stop there. Election night is likely the most stressful part of the day and my advice is the same — don’t do election night alone! Head to a friend’s house, a local pub or restaurant, or visit mom and dad… whatever you do, make sure you are around others to be able to talk about your feelings and feel a sense of community. Make it a party, play games and throw in other fun activities during the night to add levity. This will also help lessen stress!”
“If your anxiety is an expert, it has you going way in advance, so to combat this you will need tools to break the cycle of anxious thoughts,” Baron says. “One of the popular ones is to picture a large red stop sign whenever anxiety provoking thoughts enter your head. Other options include changing scenery, engaging in enjoyable physical or mental outlets, or engaging in self care like a bath or massage or listening to music.”
TBH, avoiding the results is the last thing you may want to do during an election where you’re nervous AF, but it may be in your best interest to step away from the coverage. “Limit the time you permit yourself to watching election results,” Yeager tells Bustle.”Set regular brief times for updates and stick to those times.”
And social media counts here, too. “Once you have voted you can only await the outcome,” Tabitha Westbrook, LPCA, tells Bustle. “Watching each return and every news story can increase feelings of anxiety and does not change the eventual outcome. Steering clear of the news, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Snapchat, can help reduce feelings of anxiety for some people.”
Time to treat yourself in the best way you know how tonight. “Ideas include taking a bubble bath, working out, going for a walk/run, playing with your children, going to dinner with your partner, etc,” Westbrook says. “Doing things you find enjoyable can take the focus of the election and help your body and mind calm down.”
Sure, that may mean taking a walk (or five) around the block, but you may also finally have a use for that frozen fruit in your office freezer you’re never eating (JK, I’m totally going to eat those mangoes). “If the anxiety is becoming heightened and other methods are not serving to control it well try placing a cold rag/bag of ice/bag of frozen peas over the top half of your face (forehead to under the nose),” Westbrook says. “This triggers the mammalian dive reflex and tells your brain it needs to slow down. With the brain slow down, your body chemistry also slows down and the stress hormones begin to reabsorb into your blood stream.”
“One of the key elements to mindfulness is being in the moment,” Baron says. “When your thoughts are getting to you, try and intentionally focus on the here and now. Scents, sounds, smells, feeling can all stimulate your mind positively and help you break free from anxiety.”
One way to do this? “Try to enter a space of ‘not knowing,’ where you release your stories and their associated stress, and just be in the moment watching results unfold,” Joy Rains, Author of Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind, tells Bustle. “This is indeed a challenging practice, but it gives you the opportunity to experience what is really happening in the here and now, rather than living in an imagined future outcome.
“As you are awaiting the election results, consider taking some time away from your television and social media feed to engage in some mindfulness meditation,” Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., M.S., tells Bustle. “You really must focus on your breathing technique to enable yourself to start feeling calm and relaxed. There are many benefits to meditation and it can be quite an effective remedy for some people to help alleviate any feelings of anxiety and tension that may begin to surge during extremely stressful times.”
“Like-minded anxiety loves company, so watch with friends.” says Amsellem.” If you’re not able to do that, share this experience over social media or over phone or text, if that feels comfortable.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, M.D. agrees. “Watch results with people who are on your side,” she tells Bustle. “This way you can avoid stressful arguments, and you can have people to cheer or cry with you when the results are in.”
But that may also depend on your candidate. “Having like-minded people nearby can reinforce your way of thinking, which depending on what your candidate does, can make you feel better — or exacerbate the disappointment,” Elizabeth Ossoff, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH, tells Bustle.
And if you think it may make matters worse? “It may be better to seek out distractions like music, exercise, a good novel or a movie where you can separate from the tension of the election night results.” Ossoff says.
Heather Peterson, Chief Yoga Officer at CorePower Yoga, tells Bustle that this move will help you find peace today. According to Peterson:
Sit crossed legged with right leg in front. Place left hand in front and right hand behind. Inhale lengthen your spine, exhale Twist. Breathe and twist two more times. Come back to center and reverse your legs so your left leg is in front. Repeat to the left side.
Come back to center, place your hands on your thighs palms down and close your eyes. Inhale silently say ‘peace’. Exhale silently say ‘calm’. Repeat for up to 3 minutes. Keep coming back to your breath and your mantra of Peace and Calm.
Peterson also recommends Tripod to Tripod Headstand to keep anxiety in check today. “[It] flushes the brain with oxygenated blood, dialing down the sympathetic and dialing up the parasympathetic nervous systems,” she says. “A great move to quiet the body and get the mind ready for anything.” Here’s how to do the move, according to Peterson:
Start in a Squat position: Plant yours hands under your shoulders and spread your fingers wide and bend your elbows straight back. Plant the top of your head in front of your hands to make an equal sided triangle. Bring your knees onto your elbows and lift your feet off the floor as you press more into your hands than your head and draw your belly in.
Inhale: Bring both knees into your chest in a tuck position and find your balance with your hips over your shoulders as you draw your shoulders up away from your ears and press equally through your hands.
Exhale: Extend both legs up and draw your tailbone up as you press through your flexed feet.
Breathe 3-5 breaths then return both legs to the tuck position and lower your knees to your elbows.
Kelsey Patel, a life coach, meditation expert and intuitive healer, has worked in DC in the Senate for 4.5 years and on two political campaigns, tells Bustle that stress and anxiety is a main concern of her clients.
“Whenever my clients have anxiety, I try to remind them that there is a deeper part of them speaking,” she says. “Many times, anxiety is code for fear: fear of not being in control, fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of feeling scared etc. All of these feelings are normal and the best advice I have for people who have extreme stress and fear during this time is to breathe and to allow themselves to look a little deeper into their hearts and give themselves permission to trust the journey. While I know it’s not always easy, I remind my clients that it’s OK to feel scared and to trust the process all at once. And, that whatever change is brought forward might be the change that is needed for the highest good of all. I remind them to trust that they’re part of this time period, this election, this year for a reason and that wherever we are divided, it is simply an opportunity for us to unite. To trust that, even though they may be terrified of any given outcome, there is a deeper place within each of us that is capable of letting go, allowing change and opening to more love.”
“Most anxiety starts with “what if” thinking,” Dr. Wyatt Fisher, Licensed Psychologist in Denver, Colorado, tells Bustle. “One fast way to reduce anxiety is to place a “so” in front of every “what if” statement.” So, if you’re nervous about Trump winning and playing out scary scenarios in your head, try saying to yourself, “so what if Trump wins?”
“When someone who is engaged in [what if] thinking is asked, ‘How likely is this?,’ they usually respond that its highly likely,” Reneau Peurifoy, Author and Counselor, tells Bustle. “When looked at rationally, the extreme nature of these types of claims are not likely. However, based on emotion, it is very likely. Emotion like this is fueled by the extreme rhetoric being used by both parties. The key point is that feelings are not facts. Sometimes they come from rational thinking, and sometimes they come from very distorted and irrational thinking. You always have to evaluate your feelings with the cognitive or thinking part of your mind.”
Time to confront your fear — in your head, at least. “Another helpful method is to play out the worst case scenario and how you would handle it,” Dr. Fisher says. “For example, if you’re worried Trump is going to win, what’s your biggest fear that could happen if he does win, and what’s the worse that could happy if that occurs, and the worse that could happen if that occurs, etc.? Usually, when we play out our worse fear like this we see the end result isn’t really that bad after all. Also, we can brain storm how we would handle it if the worse case scenario did occur so we feel prepared.”
Have a go-to routine after work? Don’t abandon it. “I tell my clients not to let the election overtake them,” Shemiah Derrick, M.A., Mental Health Therapist, tells Bustle. There are a multitude of things that one individual person cannot control. I am urging them to stick to their routine — go to work, go to the gym, make dinner and do whatever they would on a normal day. This can help to give them control and provide a distraction over something they cannot.”
On stressful days like this, focusing on your breathing is essential. “If you feel you are getting more anxious as the day goes on, intervene DIRECTLY on your physiology,” Joshua Klapow Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Public Health at University of Alabama at Birmingham and Co-host of The Web radio show, tells Bustle. “Slow deep breathing, as silly as it sounds is one of the most powerful ways to keep your anxiety regulated over the course of the day.
And it doesn’t have to take a long time. “Even just five minutes of mindful breathing can calm your nervous system and reduce stress,” Jamie Price, Wellness Expert & Co-Founder of Stop, Breathe & Think meditation app, tells Bustle. “It also helps to name your emotions, which can have the effect of diminishing their force and intensity.”
Another trick? “Take deep breaths down into your belly, not shallow quick breaths into your chest,” Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, tells Bustle. “Deep diaphragmatic breathing signals to your body that it is time to calm down whereas shallow quick breaths or holding your breath signal to your body that it’s time to respond (fight or flight).
“Research has shown that focusing on acts of kindness can boost your sense of happiness and wellbeing,” Price says. “If you take the time to look, you may find that acts of kindness are not as rare as you might think, especially during the election. Start taking a mental note of the acts of kindness that are occurring all around you, big and small. Let these acts of kindness inspire you to engage in some of your own. See if you can practice at least one act of kindness a day this week. If you’d like, you can try a guided audio meditation to strengthen your feelings of kindness.”
And don’t forget to respect others’ opinions, even when they’re the total opposite of yours. “Please remember that every American is entitled to their own point of view and they have their reasons that make sense to them, even if they seem absurd to you,” Schewitz says. “You don’t know the way someone else views the world and what experiences have shaped their opinion. Seek to understand rather than attack. Choose love and compassions above all else.”
“Own your anxiety and communicate it to others versus taking it out on them,” Klapow tells Bustle. “If you are feeling nervous, pre-occupied and anxious, your ability to concentrate, your patience levels etc will be impacted. Don’t say or do something you will regret to family or friends because you are focused on the election. Let people around you know what you are feeling at least a little bit. They may feel the same, and if they don’t you now have given an explanation for your state of mind.”
If you’re nervous about tonight, it’s best to avoid the drinking games (and coffee run). “The goal should be to find those behaviors which are restful but do not include substances (like caffeine or alcohol) that may create a negative physical consequence,” Ossoff says.
Dr. Lieberman agrees. “Don’t go overboard with alcohol,” she says. “You may think it’s a great way to celebrate or drown your sorrows, but things can get out of hand if you drink too much.”
“If you have concerns about the outcome of the election and this is impacting relationships with family and friends speak with them about this impact,” Yeager says. “Focus on those close to you who you can assist and help rather than the overall global concerns discussed in the campaign. Address what is really happening at your family or peer level. If you have concerns about economic or health issues ask how you can help.”
If your candidate doesn’t win, know that it’s not the end of the world. “Remind yourself this is not a doomsday situation,” Yeager reminds. “Remember the president is one part of a very large and complex political system of checks and balances. Not all of the doom and gloom is likely to happen. Think about the impact of the House and Senate. What was the outcome of each race? Remember the amount of change will be regulated by Congress, the swift political action you have been warned of in political adds warning of immediate crisis is not likely to happen given our system of governing.”
“Feeling helpless is a choice, Yeager says. “If you do nothing and complain, than you may likely expect very little to change in your world. When it comes down to it, wherever you go, it’s where you are… so, if you choose to be stuck then you will be stuck, if you choose to be active in enacting change in your community then you will become part of the process.”
Remember you’re not alone in your election anxiety, but do your best (for your own wellbeing) to take care of yourself and remember that you don’t have to feel hopeless — you’re more powerful than you think.
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