Are you losing sleep or can’t focus on work? Have you yelled at your friends or family?
One of my best friends is an Italian native who lived in New York for 10 years and became a US citizen. He is incredibly loving, caring and usually mellow – that is until we start talking about the USA Presidential election. Then he transforms through a Jekyll and Hyde metamorphosis into the Italian Stallion – searching out his Clubber Lange.
I’ve helped thousands of people create a relationship with fear so I’ve witnessed similar, sudden transformations countless times. It’s textbook; the amygdala, our brain’s emotional center where our fear response live, takes over our mind. Normal people are suddenly emotionally explosive, detonated by the smallest of sparks in the conversation.
The crazy thing in my friend’s situation is that he knows it.
He actually admitted it’s a problem that is impacting his social life. It’s tough for me because he is the one suffering the most, because he’s worrying and stressing about something he has very limited control over. Add the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic issues to the current political situation, and many people, like my paesano, are mixing a recipe for destructive behavior like stress eating, drinking, drugs or worse.
There are millions of people today with election day, political anxiety. It was present during and after the last election four years ago and is even more evident now. Politicians on both sides of the aisle cultivate a feeling of helplessness and fear to convince voters they are victims under attack by a different tribe, and that attack requires electing their hero to save them. It’s a primal threat and response from evolutionary times. If you have a good relationship with fear, it will not happen to you. You know you create your own reality, and other people can’t make you a victim.
What’s the best way to break the anxiety – stress cycle today for those wishing to create a better relationship with fear? First welcome the fact that it scares you, stress you or worries you. It’s OK. Fear can help you. Here’s how:
- Recognize the feelings of anxiety and stress – your fear center (the amygdala) creates consistent physiological changes. In my best-selling book Fear is Fuel, I call those your Fear Tells – the physical changes you feel such as butterflies in your stomach or shaky hands, which let you know that your amygdala wants you to spring into a fight or flight response. When you sense the anxiety and change, go to step two.
- Breathe – do a few four by fours (4x4s) – this simple and incredibly effective breathing technique has been around for hundreds of years. Breath in deeply to a count of four. Hold it in for four. Let it out slowly over a count of four and hold it out to a count of four. Think of it the way Navy SEALs describe as breathing around a box, with each side lasting four seconds.
- Move – get out for a walk, or if you can’t get out do some jumping jacks or squats, while you breath. Focus on the breathing and walking. Concentrate on five 4x4s at a time. Count them out in groups of five. This helps break the cycle of fixating on your stress trigger. After you finish five 4x4s, look around and notice the details around you. What you are doing by slowly breathing and calmly taking in the scene is sending powerful information in a way neuroscientists call “bottoms-up”, to let your mind know you aren’t really under threat and the amygdala can just cool its jets.
- Create agency – own your moment. Make a short list of all the things you can do to change what causes your anxiety. If it’s the election – vote, go out and campaign or smile-and-dial, put a sign in your yard or sticker on your car. Then believe that no matter what happens with the other 200 million voters in the USA, you did everything you could and now it’s out of your hands. Check off the items on your list. Early in the pandemic, I advised companies to give immune-boosting packages and advice so their employees could take control over their immunity. They couldn’t stop the spread of the disease, but they felt better by taking steps. This is agency – knowing you can act to reduce uncertainty, to solve a problem and then letting everything that you can’t control release from your focus.
- Use the energy you’ve just channeled to start on a new project or finish one that requires focus. Using fear as fuel to bolt you into action is the best outcome that can happen as you’ll accomplish two goals; you’ll distance yourself from your anxiety trigger while getting something done you’ve been wanting to finish or start. USE FEAR AS FUEL when you feel election day anxiety, and use it to do some good.
Our brain is a prediction engine, and when we don’t know the outcome of events it creates a feeling of disempowerment. These five steps will help reduce that uncertainty and get you back in the present moment enjoying the life you’re living.
If you liked these tips and you want a life changing book on using the tremendous power of fear to lead a life of passion, purpose and performance check out Fear is Fuel and go to PJSweeney.com for Masterclasses on parenting, entrepreneurship, peak performance, and personal growth.
About the author:
Patrick J. Sweeney II is the author of Fear is Fuel – The Surprising Power to Help You Find Purpose, Passion, and Performance a Wall Street Journal Best Selling book that shares six years of research from three dozen of the world’s top neuroscientists and psychologists to help you learn how to turn the most powerful force in our life into a fuel for peak performance and eventually a driver of world peace. He has turned the research from the book into a series of Masterclasses and Webinars to help people learn courage and confidence globally. Patrick is a two-time TEDx presenter, had the highest rated Talk at Google in 2017 at the European headquarters and has helped advise over 500 CEOs world wide, professional athletes and special forces operators.