This Election Season, It’s Going to Take More Than Deep Breaths

Sarah Daniels

October 13, 2020

Mental health coach at Ginger. Master in Marriage & Family Therapy and certificate in Systemic Multicultural counseling. Moving towards congruence & wholeness.

This Election Season, It’s Going to Take More Than Deep Breaths

Nerve-wracking. Gut-wrenching. Stomach-churning. Anxiety-provoking. Yes, I’m talking about the election. These are terms I hear most often from Ginger members to describe the election and the (once again) extremely tense moment for our country this year.

Elections can cause their own special flavor of anxiety. Because our political beliefs are so tightly bound to how we view the world and our values, conversations around politics can be fraught. We tend to feel anxious because our political views are about so much more than politics. When we talk about the election, we’re also talking about how we view ourselves, our roles, our responsibilities to others, and what we want for our future.

Election Stressors

So how does election anxiety manifest? These are the three most common themes I hear from members, regardless of their political affiliation.

Navigating difficult conversations with loved ones, especially when there’s the potential of damaging or losing relationships.

Dealing with uncertainty and concern for the future.

Feeling generally overwhelmed.

Here are a few tips for each of the stressors mentioned above to help you through this time.

For navigating difficult conversations with loved ones…

Try to keep the conversation from turning personal. Use “I” statements to avoid blaming and criticizing the other person, even if it is unintentional. We all tend to receive things better when we hear, “This is my point of view,” rather than, “Here is why you are wrong.”

Know that you don’t have to engage in conversation. You do not have to prove anything to your friends or family about your beliefs. You can maintain your convictions and uphold your values without participating in a discussion.

Establish healthy boundaries. If a loved one wants to engage when you don’t, establish healthy boundaries. Try these statements:

“Since it doesn’t look like we’re going to change each other’s minds, I would appreciate it if we could end this conversation here.”

“I value our relationship, and because of that I want to stop this discussion before it escalates any further.”

“Let’s change the subject. I’m noticing that this isn’t really getting us anywhere.” (Or, just change the subject without announcing it!)

If the other person does not respect the boundaries you’re asking for verbally, set a boundary through action. Walk away. Hang up the phone. You can also hide them on social media, limit contact with them during election season, and have a “no politics” rule when you see them.

Apologize. If a conversation leads to an argument, or feelings being hurt, you may need to apologize. Take responsibility and be clear that you’re apologizing with a statement like “I apologize for ____.” Statements like “I’m sorry you feel that way” isn’t a true apology. Acknowledge you understand the impact of your words or actions, and let the other person know it won’t happen again. Finally, ask for forgiveness, but don’t expect your apology to be accepted. Just know that you did everything you could to repair the relationship in as healthy a way as possible.

Remember the reasons you cherish the relationship. It’s easy to focus on the differences between you and your loved one. But take some time to acknowledge what you value about them. And share those reasons with them, too, if you’d like. It can help you both remember why it’s worth trying to navigate these difficult topics with them.

Dealing with uncertainty and concerns for the future…

Know what’s in your control. Often fear and anxiety stem from things we cannot control. Focus on what you can control, like your values, your emotions, and your actions. It can help you move from a feeling of powerlessness to empowerment. Being clear with yourself about what’s important to you can calm your mind and help you prioritize what to fight for.

Live in accordance with your beliefs. Do what you can to put your values into practice. Find ways to help other people. This is sometimes referred to as your circle of influence. Whatever gives you purpose, go find a way to share that purpose with others.

Feeling generally overwhelmed…

Avoid “doomscrolling”. Doomscrolling is endlessly reading bad news story after bad news story, and understandably can leave you feeling… bad. Stay informed, but do so in moderation.

Set aside a block of time to look at the news once or twice a day. Avoid going to social media for news, which can encourage scrolling. Instead, go directly to a source you can trust. It can be tempting to see other perspectives on the same story, but that can lead to more anxiety.

Look for the good. Sometimes it feels hard to find good in the world when the news is so negative, but there are always people trying to make the world a better place. Be intentional about seeking those people, and look for news stories that make you smile.

Practice healthy detachment. For things that are outside of your control (like the actions of politicians, other people’s beliefs), try detaching from them. One way to detach is to distance yourself from the thought. For example, rather than saying, “I’m so angry about ___,” try rephrasing it as, “I’m having a thought that I’m feeling angry about ___.” In the second statement you declare that you’re experiencing a feeling rather than saying you “are” angry. There’s a big difference between “experiencing” and “embodying” anger.

Reach out for help. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, concerned, or just lost during this election season, reach out to loved ones or a professional to share what’s on your mind and to remind yourself that you’re not in this alone.

I know that I’m personally going to be taking a lot of deep breaths this election season. But there’s more that we can do to maintain our relationships, our nerves, and our general well-being. And while all of the strategies above are suggestions, there’s one action that I strongly recommend you take to benefit both your mental health and our country during this election season: vote!