Everywhere you look, you’re virtually bombarded by info about the 2016 election… especially as primary season has picked up in the past few weeks. All of the insulting soundbites, memes, yelling, and division can really increase fear and anxiety… and there are still eight months to go. While it’s hard to entirely escape the anxiety-inducing buzz of the election, here are some patterns and strategies to help you lower your stress and anxiety:
1. Move Away From The Echo Chamber
Anxious thoughts often bounce around the mind, picking up energy as they echo inside all of us. For example, if an acquaintance walks by you without saying hello, you may wrack your brain to try to figure out what this absence of greeting means, wondering how you have offended this person. Your brain works to figure it out, but this energy may cause more distress as it makes assumptions about ill intent. You may get caught up in a fight-or-flight response, and even become angry at that acquaintance or apprehensive about your next encounter with them.
In a presidential election, the echo chamber can exist externally as well as internally. We exist in a 24-hour news cycle, filled with pundits and soundbites designed to hook in their viewership. Your social media feed is filled with memes and links designed to get a rise out of the viewer. While television and social media can connect us and point us at current issues, the constant consumption fueled with yelling, anger, and fear increases anxiety.
We can lower or moderate our anxiety by:
· Taking breaks from social media.
· Limiting what articles we read on social media or online news. Can you seek out articles on a topic other than the election or visually search for good news about your friends’ lives on Facebook?
· Focusing on print media that is less inflammatory instead of listening to clips and programs with raised voices. Listening to yelling or loud voices will raise the blood pressure and anxious feelings in the body, even if the person was talking about something pleasant, so it is helpful to find ways to lower the volume in what you are consuming.
· Seeking out a few trusted sources for news updates and then setting the time that you spend looking at them. Maybe you listen to one talk radio program during your commute. Or you visit a blog and listen to one podcast to get your summaries.
This idea of limiting your time in the echo chamber does not mean that you cannot be informed. Instead, you can choose where to get your information and how much of it you need to take in at a time. The pattern of anxiety is always seeking more information, trying to find solutions to “fix the problem.” However, that tendency needs to be mitigated in a longer-term scenario like an election year, where there is no obvious “solution” that you have control over.
2. Attend To The Present As Much As Possible
News about the Presidential campaign and elections tends to propel you forward into the future, after the new President is decided. While it is natural to think ahead to a candidate’s presidency as you consider electing them, too much time in the future can put anxiety into overdrive. For instance, I saw a meme this week that proposed that the outcome of a Donald Trump presidency is a Hunger Games dystopia. I imagine that it was meant to be humorous, but it also raised the perceived threat, implying doom if Trump is elected.
If you imagine all of the policies of your least favorite candidate coming true, you start to live in a world of the future but without the ability to move through it. In addition, the reality is that most presidents do not get the majority of their campaign promises into law because of checks and balances with Congress, the Supreme Court, or state and local government.
So you can step back into the present as often as possible in order to manage anxiety. You can listen to candidate pledges and predictions and take them as information about their plans and values, using that information to form your current opinions about a candidate. It is also helpful to pause and breathe when you notice constriction or fear in the body, mind, or breath.
3. Choose Arguments Wisely
This election cycle has been full of all-or-nothing thinking and polarization. This can lead to increased conflict when you try to discuss politics in real life or on the Internet. A few thoughts here:
· This may be a season to “agree to disagree” with family and friends of different political leanings. There are lots of other issues to talk about that will lead to strengthening of relationships, and it is okay to lean toward these topics for the sake of relationships and one’s own stress level.
· No one goes on social media looking to have their mind changed. Keep that in mind before you entertain the delusion that you can be the one to break through to them when they are not interested.
· If you do engage in conflict over politics, monitor your own bodily symptoms and know when you need to step back and take a break, letting go of the impulse to fight.
· Spend time in real life discussing the election with people who actually want to have a discussion.
4. Take Action Where You Can
While you most likely cannot influence the entire election, you can direct your anxious energy to appropriate places. You can learn more about a particular issue or support a certain candidate. The feeling of efficacy can lower anxiety by giving the energy a place to go. For example, you can:
· Work with a specific candidate’s campaign,
· Join a local or national group that supports an issue that is important to you,
· Recruit your friends to join in these activities with you, or
· Pledge money to organizations or candidates that are important to you.
5. Keep Living Your Life
The realities of a Sanders or Cruz presidency are still in the future, and you can deal with the positive or negative outcomes (depending on your political preferences) as you need to. Today, it is still 2016 and there are plenty of other areas of life to attract our attention. Maybe this is a time to learn a new hobby, spend more time with family or friends, plan a vacation, take a class, increase exercise, or read more fiction. Providing yourself balance in where you spend your energy helps to lower anxiety as well.
All of these tips can change or adjust the ways in which you interact with news about the election, and this change can give you some space to respond and choose rather than react and seethe during the next eight months. Whatever your political preference, I wish you more peace and breath in the rest of 2016.