What we CAN control this election week
A recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 68% of adult Americans view the 2020 presidential election as a "significant source of stress in their life." If you're like us, you're not surprised by this number. And in addition to general stress, this election is likely to be triggering for many of us in one or more ways; whether it's content in the news about racism and sexual violence, the memory of 2016 specifically, and/or generational histories of oppression. You have likely already read or heard about self-care strategies, breathing apps, and shows to binge watch in an effort to manage this stress. And yet, so much continues to be beyond our control; issues we care deeply about, injustices caught on video, anxiety about what is to come. And we don't have a clear end date; we may not know the outcome of the election this Tuesday evening, and of course regardless of the outcome, we know many injustices and stress will continue.
"Not knowing" can often send our mind into a spiral of trying to control things. For some, that might come out as irritation towards those around you; for others, a resurgence of coping strategies (helpful and/or unhelpful) reminiscent of those used to cope with past trauma. And for many of us, our mind creates "games" to try to control our internal sense of anxiety and dread: "If I keep up to date on social media/the news/etc. I'll at least know what's happening and then I'll feel better," or, "If I don't talk about it with anyone and stay distracted, then I'll feel better." Of course, there may be many things that help us feel better in the moment; though often our attempts to feel "better" (read: less anxiety, less dread, less depressed) can also find us going down a rabbit hole of twitter feeds and/or numbing out that leaves us feeling even more anxiety (or dread or depressed) than when we started.
We don't have the answer for you (sorry if you wish you'd known this earlier!), though we DO know that finding ways to 1) go back to basics and 2) engage in meaningful actions can help manage these uncertain times while looking at what we can control: who we want to be during these uncertain times.
1) Back to basics: these are things like going outside (with a mask!) every day, occasionally taking showers, eating healthy-ish foods, calling/texting someone you care about for support (or to share a funny meme or two), and yes, limiting social media and news. These "basics" aren't really so basic when we're in a stressful time; they often require setting intentions or goals, even scheduling reminders, and sometimes additional professional support. If you are concerned about how you are functioning, it might be helpful to connect with a therapist for a consultation, or your primary care doctor if they are more accessible to you.
2) Engage in meaningful actions: no, you don't have to start a non-profit tomorrow (though if you do, more power to you!). The good news is there are plenty of opportunities to live in ways that are meaningful and consistent with who we want to be in the world. Is civic engagement important to you? Participate in Get Out the Vote campaigns, or donate time or money if you're able to causes that you want to support. Is being empathic an important quality of yours? You could reach out to a friend who is struggling, or say a kind word to a stranger who looks like they could use it.
However you choose to spend these next few days (weeks?) as the election draws to a close, we invite you to do all things with compassion for yourself. And, don't forget that it is likely there are others feeling a similar way as you are (remember that 68% number above?). Let us lean however we can on the strength of our communities, be they online or in real life, from our family of origin or our family of choice, and on our own resilience, to keep moving in the direction of our values.