We're only a few days out from Election Day, and the stress and anxiety levels are at an all-time high for a lot of people. I don't know about you, but I've been thinking about the lead-up to Election Day and the day itself for a very long time now, and I think COVID-19 has made my focus on it even more heightened. Because not only do we have a global pandemic to worry about, but we've also got a high-stakes election coming at us. It's enough to make someone who is normally cool as a cucumber start to freak out.
You can't really escape it, either. No matter what I do to create boundaries around the election news cycle, I can't help but get sucked into it, whether it's watching TV or scrolling (or doomscrolling) through my phone. It doesn't help that my job is literally the internet, so I can't really escape dire headlines.
The what-ifs and maybes and best-case/worst-case scenarios can really drive you nuts. The uncertainty is what makes the stress and anxiety a lot worse—especially if you're like me and have a very vivid imagination along with a talent for jumping to conclusions.
But as much as I have my moments of worrying myself into a dark abyss, I know I can't let myself do that 24/7 and that I've got to take care of my mental health. If I'm not in the right mindset, that's not going to be good for my whole self (mind and body), and it's certainly not going to be useful to anyone else around me.
So you've got to prepare yourself mentally for Election Day and the days after since many experts are saying we won't get results until later. And of course, we'll need to get our mindsets in a good place for the outcome, no matter what happens.
To start, it always helps to check in with yourself and acknowledge your feelings. "It is fair to feel stressed at this time, and you want to recognize that," says Madeleine DiLeonardo, MEd, LPC, NCC, CCATP, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Mind Body and Soul by DiLeonardo Wellness. "That being said, you don't want to be consumed by your emotions around this. Feel and process them but then try to focus on the things that you can be proactive about or hopeful for. This is sometimes easier said than done, but if we ignore taking care of ourselves or trying to incorporate things that make us feel good in our lives, we are less likely to manage our emotions effectively during this time. So the little self-care tasks do matter, and they do help."
Between now and Election Day, remember to take care of yourself. Create some boundaries or take breaks when it comes to news so you don't get overwhelmed with information overload. Take the pressure off yourself and listen to what you need. Be nicer to yourself because it's a stressful time, and you're not going to be completely put-together or have all the answers.
As for the Election Day and beyond game plan, the experts outlined some action items to help manage your mental health.
Make Sure to Vote
First things first, you've got to make sure to vote on Election Day if you haven't already completed early voting or mailed in your ballot. It's the one thing you can control right now. "We often stress about things we don't have control over, so in the case of the election, the first step to preparing for 'things not going the way you wanted,' is by being proactive on the front end and doing things that you do have control over," says Nina Westbrook, LMFT. "Regardless of the outcome, you can feel good about your own actions while keeping in mind that life will go on. Just like any other disappointment we experience throughout our lives, we push forward and remind ourselves that we have the ability to control the way we process each of these events taking place in our lives."
Take Some Time to Yourself
"If possible, create time and space around the election to process how you are feeling," DiLeonardo recommends. "Do not overschedule yourself the day of or days after the election and have a plan in place to rely on supports and work through how you are feeling. If you need to cry it out, cry! If you need to log off social media or go to a safe space, do this!"
"It may be helpful to make Election Night a party with other people to watch the results and, depending on the results, either celebrating or mourning collectively," says Jordan Madison, LCMFT, creator of Therapy Is My JAM. "Remind yourself of what you know and ways to be grateful even after the election ends. Continue to process your emotions and set boundaries for how much news you take in."
Physically, this can get tricky with COVID guidelines and precautions. You should only gather with people in your immediate household to be extra safe. But that doesn't mean you can't "surround" yourself with your support system. This is where the beauty of technology comes into play. You can set up a Zoom hangout or set up a group text to stay in touch and share what you're feeling.
Be Patient With Yourself and Others
A little compassion for yourself and others goes a long way. "No matter which side you're on, this is a difficult time for the entire nation," Westbrook says. "If possible, keep your heart and mind open and focus on the actions you do have control over. Regardless of the election's outcome, we are capable of doing great things when we come together as individuals and as a community."
Build Up Your Resources
"I do think there's going to be some really intense processing and grieving to do, even if all of this turns out well," says Emily Anhalt, PsyD, co-founder and chief clinical officer at Coa, a mental health platform that is hosting free political anxiety support sessions in the lead-up to the election. "Because this just felt too overwhelming to even feel all of our feelings while we're in survival mode. So I want to encourage people to build up your resources and get yourself ready to face tough things, whatever that might look like for you. One of the ways I recommend doing that is integrate more play into your life. I know life doesn't feel very playful or joyful, but we as humans really need play."
What "play" means to you is very personalized. It can be working out, playing online games with friends and family, spending some time outdoors (safely, of course), or just working on a hobby you love.
Even the simplest things to make yourself feel better or keep going throughout the day can help. "During very stressful times, we remind people to get 'back to basics,' meaning trying to treat yourself and others with kindness and focus on basic needs of self-care, including getting enough sleep, showering, eating healthy meals, etc.," DiLeonardo says.
Use your therapy sessions to help you go through your feelings and emotions. And if you don't have a therapist, look into finding one if you think that will be helpful. "We often hear clients apologizing or thinking it's 'silly' to be talking about politics in therapy, but it is not silly at all, and if you are feeling impacted by the current political climate, this can be a great safe space to process how you are feeling," DiLeonardo adds.
Take Time Off
If you feel you might need some extra time and won't be able to focus on work, you can request a mental health day or a day off for November 4. "I also think proactively making plans so that you can allow yourself to grieve if things don't go the way we want," Anhalt explains. "So take the day after the election off now." And hey, if things go the way you wanted them to, you'll probably still need an extra day to go through the aftermath.
And if having structure in your life is a coping mechanism for you, make a schedule for yourself. "In the days after the election, try to schedule some time to focus on having structure and purpose in your day, particularly things that allow you to feel energized or positive," DiLeonardo says. "Around the election or upon waiting for the results, we will become even more inundated with the news cycle, so it is important to try to plan things that allow for self-care, something to look forward to, or soothing activities."
And remember, you're putting soothing things on your to-do list, not more work. You don't want to feel more overwhelmed or stressed than you already feel. "Maybe don't schedule things for yourself at a time that you're not going to be fully resourced," Anhalt says. "So if you think that that's going to be a really tough week, don't schedule an important presentation that week, or don't expect yourself to do more social activities than you think you're going to have the capacity for. So be proactive in the sense of building up your self-care resources."
Work on a Project
Once you've had some time to process, getting involved with a project can help relieve some stress. "Sometimes, it can be good to channel anxious energy into a project. When we're out volunteering or busy organizing something bigger than ourselves, we can feel more comfortable in the fact that no election result has the power to stop us from making the world a better place," Westbrook says.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.