How To Breathe Through It
Election Anxiety, How To Breathe Through It
American Elections are less than one week away.
Breathe in… Breathe out… Breathe in… Breathe out…
Hi there, dear human. How are you?
Do you notice a bit of tension in your body at the thought of the upcoming election? If so, you are not alone. We feel it, too.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge election-related stress and anxiety.
We at Self-Care Is For Everyone have been inspired by the way this community has moved through all that 2020 has already brought. To help us navigate these next few days we have compiled a list of tips and tools to help ease election-related stress and anxiety. It is our hope that these tools help to bring a sense of ok-ness to moments of tension that might arise over the next week, or beyond. And no matter what happens next, remember that we are in this, together.
You are not alone.
According to a recent poll, “more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) say that the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life.”
Maybe election anxiety has visited you recently in the form of fearful thoughts, as you find yourself worrying for your or your loved one’s right to live a healthy and fully-expressed life in the country, state, or neighborhood you call home. Perhaps election stress squeezes your chest, leaves you sleepless and irritable or withdrawn, or threatens to permanently attach your shoulders to your ears. Or maybe you have felt moments of helplessness and have wondered if your voice or vote even matter.
If any of this sounds familiar, or if election-related stress and anxiety has been moving through you (or your communities) in other ways, we want you to know that it’s ok; You, dear human, are one of so many other humans experiencing the profound uncertainty of this moment. It might not feel ok -- in fact it might feel very not-ok and you may catch yourself wanting to numb or bury the feelings of stress and anxiety that come to visit -- but we want to invite you, instead, to pause.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
This moment might feel intense, but don’t forget that you have showed up with kindness, courage and love for some pretty hard shit already. And kindness, courage and love aren’t always soft and fluffy; sometimes they look like compassionate boundaries and taking a wise stand. Aaaaaand of course, sometimes that is easier said than done. But we’re in this, with you.
Ready? Let’s do this thing.
What is going on?
We are deeeeeeeeeeep into election season, 2020. Spend thirty seconds on any social media platform right now and prepare to be bombarded with ad campaigns, influencer opinions, questionable ‘news’ stories, and alarming conspiracy theories -- all brimming with information (or misinformation) designed to influence our vote on November 3rd.
As the election draws nearer, irritability, impatience, and aggression seem at an all-time high, and Twitter feeds erupt with name-calling, ignorance, and threats of violence.
Add that to the middle of a pandemic, economic and environmental distress, and national recognition of systemic inequality, and is it any wonder our nervous systems feel a bit overwhelmed by the vitriol and sensationalism of this election season?
Right. So how do I stop feeling anxious?
Well, hold on. Stress and anxiety can be uncomfortable, but feeling stressed or anxious is actually pretty natural. According to the definition set forth by the American Psychological Association (APA), anxiety is
- an emotion characterized by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension in which an individual anticipates impending danger, catastrophe, or misfortune. The body often mobilizes itself to meet the perceived threat: Muscles become tense, breathing is faster, and the heart beats more rapidly.
Anxiety arises as a response to a perceived ‘diffuse’ threat or uncertainty. Adaptive anxiety helps to motivate action that can protect our wellbeing. When anxious cues in our body are observed, investigated, and interpreted in ways that contextualize the uncertainty or perceived threat within a broader (and healthy) understanding of the moment, they can provide helpful information, inspire reflection or action, and then -- and this is important -- subside.
Working with occasional anxiety is, loosley, a three-step process: first, we bring our awareness into the present moment with a practice of body or breath-based attention; second, we observe our thoughts with non-judgment; and third, we gently inquire if those thoughts are true, or if they only feel real but are actually not the whole truth (or maybe not true at all).
The tools and suggestions we offer below encourage meeting our thoughts with curiosity, and then reappraising our anxious thoughts from a mental and physical state that feels more centered and safe. Through these practices, we aim to make space for the complexity of this moment and the multivalent feelings that might arise in response to the upcoming election. In making space for all of it with non-judgement and curiosity, we are empowered to move through experiences of stress or anxiety (and not just around them).
Breathe through it.
- Breathe. By bringing our attention to our breath or to our body, we can begin to return our awareness to the present moment -- a moment in which things are not as bad as they might seem in our thoughts. Sometimes our minds are quite agitated and we need to calm our thoughts before we can feel safe coming home into our breath or body; if that is the case, maybe try listening to this Anonymous Affirmations piece that Self-Care Is For Everyone recorded with HitRecord.
Name the experience. Name the experience of anxiety as it moves through you, trying not to judge it, repress it, or reason it away. The act of naming creates space, inviting curiosity in place of avoidance, and allowing for connection with others who might feel similarly, instead of the silence of shame or embarrassment.
Practice reframing or reappraising the perceived threat. Once we name the thoughts or feelings, we can begin to gently question, “this feels real, but is it true?” Perhaps journal, or try a few reminders:
It’s ok to feel anxious during this time. It’s how I respond to my anxiety that matters.
- I notice I’m feeling anxious right now, but I know I have tools to help soothe my anxiety. Everything is okay in this moment; I am safe, and this anxiety will pass. If you are still having a hard time getting centered, check out this guided breath meditation from @selfcarecreature made specially for the @selfcareisforeveryone community!!
Boost up the Self-Care
- Take back your mind by taking regular breaks from social media and the news. Give yourself permission to stop “doom-scrolling.” Seriously. Evidence is now overwhelmingly clear that scheduling breaks from social media and the news improves mental health. When we are exposed to vitriolic and sensationalized information, we feed our mind with aggression and fear. This does not mean you need to pretend away your worries about the election, but rather that you can carve out breaks in your day to expand your awareness to include present-moment experiences that bring a sense of fulfillment, agency, purpose, or gratitude into your mind and body.
- Carve out time for self-care. When things feel uncertain, allow yourself time to focus on the things that nourish you and bring balance. Care for your body with healthy food, tension-releasing stretches, and restorative sleep -- dance breaks are also encouraged. Care for your mind by stepping away from your screen, taking a walk in nature, listening to music that makes you feel good, spending time reading something that inspires you, and perhaps trying a guided meditation.
Have a plan, because your voice matters
- Create a voting plan. Sometimes the act of voting and the logistics involved can feel overwhelming. When we are feeling anxious, it is especially important to avoid procrastination. To help support you, we will be sending a step-by-step guide for election day in our weekly newsletter. Among other things, we are including resources for finding last-minute information about voting for local, down-ticket races that can make a huge difference in your own neighborhood.
- Invest in relationships that nourish. When things in life feel out of our control, nurturing a sense of connection with others can increase resilience (and even boost our immune systems!) If you are curious about the science behind this, check out this neurobiology study -- it’s pretty interesting.
Practice healthy conversation. Difference of opinion and experience can enrich our relationships, but those differences might feel a bit tricky to navigate in the shadow of such a contentious election. This guide to Better Conversations from On Being has been a huge influence for us at Self-Care Is For Everyone. It advocates for Generous Listening, Adventurous Civility, Humility, and more, and offers inspiring interviews for uncertain times. We deeply appreciate the encouragement to “understand the humanity behind the words of the other and patiently [summon] one’s own best self and one’s own most generous words and questions.”
*We also want to acknowledge that it can sometimes feel unsafe to engage in conversation about differing political ideas, and that it is ok to set clear and compassionate boundaries*
- Ask for help. If you find yourself suffering from long-lasting effects of anxious thought -- around the election or otherwise -- we encourage and support seeking out the aid of a mental health professional. Rumination, compromised sleep, uncharacteristic fighting with loved ones, panic attacks, and despair can be signs that anxiety is causing longer-lasting suffering in our life, and that professional support could be helpful. Though it is not an exhaustive list, check out our Mental Health Resources.
Prepare for the possibility that election results will not be known for a while. As the APA notes in their recently released guide to election anxiety, “Realize that we might not know who won the election on Election Day.” What if it takes a week to know the results, or longer? Can you envision healthy choices that you can set into action now so that on election night and in the days or even weeks following you can feel connected, safe, and present in the world -- and not attached to your Twitter or newsfeed? Maybe set an intention to check in on friends and family, or prepare a self care date night for yourself (or with a friend!) Perhaps engage in a creative project, build music playlists for your friends, or leave little sticky notes of encouragement and love wherever you go.
This list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it has sparked some ideas for you, and reminded you of your tools and your power to move through whatever comes next. And, dear human, please know that you are not alone. Remind yourself that this is a tense time for our country and that feelings of stress or anxiety are understandable. Remind yourself to breathe. Remind yourself that your voice matters. Remind yourself that no matter what comes next, together we will heal.
We leave you with the words of the wonderful Dr. Mariel Buque: “Remember that there is always hope to hold onto.”
Thank you for coming on this journey with us. We appreciate you.