Stressed About the Election? Here Are 6 Tips to Help You Cope

Over two-thirds of Americans report feeling stressed about the 2020 election. (iStock)

It’s no secret that voters are entering this election on edge. Research shows that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 affected the mental health of Americans more than any political event since 9/11. And that anxiety has only gone up in 2020, with over two-thirds of Americans reporting election-related stress.

“If you’re worried about things that might happen in the future and the possibility of that feels intolerable, you’re going to experience a lot of distress around the anticipation of that event and if you don’t get the outcome you wanted,” says Dr. Nili Solomonov of Cornell University, whose 2018 study tracked the ways the political climate impacted client-therapist relationships after the 2016 election. “If you’re going into an election thinking, ‘It’s fine either way. Whichever candidate wins, it doesn’t have a strong impact on my life or on my value system or on my wellbeing,’ then you wouldn’t be as impacted psychologically.”

So how do you cope with stress from the political climate, and preserve your mental health before, during and after the election? Here are a few tips.

Make a voting plan

Uncertainty about the future is a huge driver of anxiety, so make a plan. If you haven’t already cast your ballot, map out when and how you’ll vote. The president has already said that he hopes courts will stop ballots from being counted after election day, even though that’s a normal and legal part of the voting process. So with the election just days away, it’s safest to drop your ballot off at an official drop box rather than relying on the postal service.

Make sure to get the exact location of your ballot drop box from your county’s voting website. If you’re voting in person on the day of the election, check your county website for your polling place and give yourself several hours to vote in case there are long lines.

Also, the most common reason ballots are rejected is non-matching signatures, so make sure you sign your name the same way you did when you registered to vote. After you vote, you can track your ballot with this tool.

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Make a protest safety plan

If you plan to attend protests, make a safety plan with friends and family. Bring at least one buddy and discuss beforehand what kinds of activities you feel comfortable engaging in and at what point you’d want to leave.

Write the National Lawyers Guild phone number on your arm in case police round up and arrest demonstrators. Wear comfortable sneakers and clothing in case you need to run. Bring a scarf or bandana and goggles to protect yourself from tear gas; wear glasses instead of contacts and no makeup. Pack a bag with water, snack bars, hand sanitizer and first-aid supplies.

All of that might sound intense, but the reality is that police used violence against protesters at demonstrations across the country this summer, and armed, pro-Trump vigilantes showed up, hurt and killed people at the Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A peaceful protest can quickly escalate, so be mindful of exit routes, watch your surroundings and remember that it’s OK leave if you don’t feel comfortable.

Set your sights beyond Nov. 3

In the 2016 election, polls and media pundits suggested that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for office, so many voters were blindsided by Donald Trump’s victory, which only added to their distress. This election, think about possible outcomes and what you’ll do in each one.

“It’s always a good idea to prepare for every scenario, especially if there are scenarios you find intolerable,” says Solomonov. “Be future-forward and think about, ‘How is my life still going to continue on, and how can I cope with a situation that feels very detrimental when I first think about it?’”

Whether or not your desired candidate wins, the election won’t be a magic cure for the many pressing issues facing the country, such as inequality, climate change and police brutality. How will you show up for your community after Nov. 3? Realizing it’s not just about election day can help put things in perspective.

Make a self-care plan

It might be tempting to obsessively doomscroll on social media, but prioritizing things that make you feel good will be key to minimizing the stress of election day, and before and after. Even if you’re committed to watching the play-by-play of the results, promise to do at least one nice thing for yourself as a counterbalance. Focus on basic self-care like taking a relaxing shower with your favorite scents. Take a break from the news with a novel or podcast; play calming music; go on a walk or exercise.

Remember, mindfulness is your friend—even if you don’t consider yourself someone who meditates. It decreases stress, helps you sleep and generally makes you more resilient in the face of negative emotions. “Exercises like progressive relaxation can be very helpful,” says Solomonov. “I would also encourage people to go online. There are a ton of resources and apps.”

Self-care may be easier said than done, especially for those juggling childcare and working in the pandemic, but setting aside five or even 10 minutes a day for yourself—or longer if you’re able—will make a difference in how you feel.

Make a meal plan

Eat good food that nourishes your body, and don’t overdo it on booze or caffeine, which can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you tend to forget to eat when you’re feeling stressed, meal prep and stock up on frozen items and easy-to-grab snacks. And if panic causes you to stress-eat, keep healthy food around that won’t make you feel worse.

Drinking heavily or bingeing on ice cream when you’re lactose intolerant might seem like a good idea in the moment, but you’ll be doubly upset when you realize you’ve added physical suffering to your mental anguish.

Log off but don’t isolate

The last eight months of the pandemic has made us all feel disconnected, so surround yourself with loved ones who can be supportive of your feelings around the election, and talk to a therapist if you can.

“What we’ve seen from the past few months, and there is a lot of data that’s coming out and suggesting it, is that social isolation is really detrimental and has negative effects on individuals’ wellbeing,” says Solomonov. “Find people who make you feel better, who feel very supportive, who you can socialize with in a positive, helpful way.”

Meet up in person while practicing COVID-19 precautions or chat on the phone. Just be wary of spending too much time on social media. Give yourself a time limit and notice how being online is making you feel. If it’s adding to your stress, log off. The news will be there tomorrow.

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