Presidential elections, by nature, are defined by uncertainty and stress. But this year’s tumultuous election with its the delayed results — in a 2020 already fraught with crises that have taken a toll on our physical and mental well-being — feels especially anxiety-inducing.
Even before the nail-biting wait for the final result, more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) said that the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life, compared to half of adults (52%) who said the same in the 2016 presidential election, according to a poll from the American Psychological Association,
And for many, politics can make us literally sick. A 2019 study out of the University of Nebraska found that nearly 12% of Americans reported that politics was damaging their physical health.
We can’t control this election, but we can take steps to build our resilience in three ways: recharging from the stressful news cycle, connecting with others, and engaging in meaningful ways. This guide will help you do these through Microsteps: science-backed actions you can start taking immediately to build habits that significantly improve your life.
Each Microstep takes less than five minutes, so you can fit them into your schedule no matter how busy you are.
The continuous flow of information and opinions from a variety of news and social media sources can be a great source of stress and anxiety. While being informed can help us feel more prepared as we approach the result, fully immersing ourselves in news and politics can lead us into a cycle of negativity and catastrophizing, when we stop living in the present and instead live in our negative fantasies about the future. Being educated and engaged is important, but we also need to know when to turn things off and recharge our mental batteries.
Microsteps to help you recharge:
Set a news cut-off time at the end of the day. Yes, it’s tempting to stay up all night waiting for news, but setting healthy limits to our media consumption helps us get a better night’s sleep and put stressful news in perspective.
If you’re feeling stressed about the news, take a minute to meditate. Pausing to breathe reduces stress and encourages resilience in the face of uncertainty. And neuroscience studies have shown we can course-correct from stress in as little as 60 seconds.
Do one thing each day that brings you joy that is totally unrelated to the election. Set up a call to talk with a friend, cook a fun dish, or read a novel. These small bursts of joy help prevent negativity from overtaking us.
In a time of heightened anxiety and polarization, we may find ourselves crossing paths with family, friends, or colleagues who have different opinions from our own. Yet nurturing our relationships, our sense of belonging, and our ability to connect with others is essential to managing stress and strengthening resilience. We don’t have to compromise our values, but we can take the opportunity to learn more about our differences, build perspective, and be inclusive even if we disagree with others. Even if finding common ground proves difficult, a research-backed way to strengthen our connections and reduce stress is to enjoy some laughs together — preferably about something unrelated to the election.
“One of the best things you can do is talk to each other,” says Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “As you share with them the tensions and negative emotions you’re feeling, it’s important to also focus on positive emotions and try to neutralize the negative ones.”
Microsteps to help you connect:
Read one article each day from a news source you don’t typically read. By exposing yourself to opposing perspectives and diverse interpretations, you will improve your ability to connect with others who see things differently.
Ask someone what they’re doing to take care of themselves and manage election stress. Social distancing can make us feel further apart, not just physically but emotionally. Bridge the distance with a simple question — you might learn something, or find you have something in common.
Watch a funny video or share a meme with a friend. Research shows that a deep, hearty laugh helps build resilience, induces relaxation, and even decreases our blood pressure. It’s also a great way to connect with others on something unrelated to politics.
Our world is facing multiple crises that affect our daily lives. The health of our communities, our country and our world depends on engaged citizens making sure our voices are heard. If you find yourself struggling to manage stress associated with the election — take action! Looking beyond ourselves to serve others and participate in our community is one of the most effective ways to boost our well-being, transforming the giver as much as the recipients.
Microsteps to help you engage:
Get involved in one issue you find personally meaningful. Passively watching increases feelings of helplessness, which in turn fuels outrage and stress. Take a few minutes to research an issue you care about. Chances are, there will be groups that can show you how to channel that outrage into action.
Each day, find one small way to give that draws on your own talents.
Think about a skill you have and find a way to share it with someone else. It might not even be overtly political. Focusing on what you can do now will push back on any feelings of helplessness and allow you to have an impact.