How to Stay Grounded During the Election


10.13.2020

Elections are less than 30 days away and some media pundits are calling this the biggest election of our lifetime. Social media is rife with arguing and hostility. Yet you are only one person, one vote. What can you do to maintain a healthy state of emotions?

First, get involved in a productive cause you believe in, says Palomar Health Psychologist Michelle Hemmings. When you feel helpless you feel immobilized, Hemmings said, so get involved by donating your time, writing letters, educating yourself about your cause and talking to others in a constructive way.

“Focusing on what you can do will make you feel less hopeless and more mobilized,” said Hemmings. “Finding things that give you hope and meaning in a sense of being connected with yourself.”

Even when we are passionately involved in a cause we believe in we can become stressed or even triggered by people who do not share our same viewpoints. In these cases, Palomar Health Psychology Intern Yvette Cabey suggests having a distraction, some type of activity that’s lighter and takes you somewhere else (mentally).

“If you feel your temperature rising, that’s a warning sign that you need to implement your coping skills,” Cabey said. “Implement deep breathing, meditation, exercise, or listen to music.”

In some cases it may mean avoiding political conversations or avoiding contact altogether with people who have opposing viewpoints if your conversations tend to trigger unhealthy emotions. Emotional triggers also extend to excessive media consumption, says researcher Fletcher Wortmann, in an article in Psychology Today about election anxiety.

He suggests asking yourself, “who actually benefits if you stay up until two in the morning watching cable news? How does this benefit your candidate, or improve the health of our democracy?” 

Hemmings and Cabey said there are two schools of thought when it comes to dealing with your emotions. One is cognitive behavioral therapy which is trying to not catastrophize and have balanced thoughts. For example, instead of fixating on what the worst-case scenarios could be if the elections don’t come out the way you’d like, think of some ways the outcome could be beneficial. In simple terms try and view the glass as half full instead of half empty. Another key to cognitive behavioral therapy could be to learn how to cope with the way things are rather than how you think they should be. You can still pursue change without allowing the current status to cause anxiety.

The second school of thought is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which teaches you to focus on your values and accept your emotions as appropriate responses to certain situations while making a commitment to necessary behavior changes.

“Experience the emotion, (don’t try and change it), however what you do in the next moment will determine how things will go for you moving forward,” said Cabey, giving examples of productive behaviors such as journaling, talking to others, not isolating yourself.

Hemmings and Cabey emphasized Mindfulness is a great strategy to self-regulate. Mindfulness teaches humans are capable of being fully present and aware of where we are and what we are doing while not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. There is much research and material available for free to help you learn mindfulness techniques. You can get started at mindful.org.

If you reach the point you are snapping at people, are losing sleep and feel like you can’t move forward in life, you need to seek professional help, said Hemmings. There is much less negative social stigma associated with professional psychotherapy these days and some find it helpful even when they are not experiencing serious mental health issues.

Photo caption: The last day to vote is November 3.
 


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