As polls closed across the country this week and returns began to roll in, an entire country was decidedly on edge, prepped for the possibility of blue and red mirages, but still feeling all manner of emotions as states went blue and red and back and forth as more returns came in. We still don’t definitively know who will win the presidential race and people are sad, upset, terrified, and so much more. There’s discouragement and so much uncertainty. If you’re feeling that way, here’s what the experts say you should do.
How to Cope with Election Anxiety
1. Acknowledge your emotions
News flash: it’s OK to not feel OK, especially when we’re waiting on potentially earth-shattering news, barely slept last night, and don’t know what the future of our country will look like. The first step in dealing with how you feel about the election is acknowledging those feelings. “Find a healthy way to express your emotions,” suggested Melissa Lapides, MA, LMFT, a psychotherapist and creator of SafeSpace Trauma Certification. “Remember that you’re in charge of your emotions. Take care of yourself, hold yourself tight, and allow yourself to feel whatever is there.”
Acknowledge your emotions by checking in with how you feel, and letting yourself feel. Lapides also recommended expressing those emotions by talking it out or letting yourself cry if you’re sad, and exercising or screaming into a pillow if you’re feeling angry. It’s absolutely OK to be discouraged by the results, even if your candidate ultimately wins. Bottom line: no matter what you’re feeling, it’s OK, so acknowledge and express your emotions.
2. Listen to your body
After you check in with your emotions, check in with your body. The body holds a lot of stress, so taking care of the body can also help ease stress. “Many people are feeling stress and anxiety levels rise during the election, so it’s really important to prioritize self-care right now,” said Risa Williams, licensed therapist and author. “Your body might send you signals that it has had too much stress and you might start to feel exhausted both emotionally and physically, so it’s essential to listen to your body and to take breaks when you need to, to rest.”
Yes, that means turning off the news or deleting social media apps if you need to. Take multiple breaks throughout the day (both election-coverage breaks and work breaks), to take a walk outside, meditate, exercise, or do something enjoyable like cooking a comfort meal or drawing and painting. Lapides also suggested prioritizing additional body-care, even if you don’t feel like it. She recommended eating well, taking a bath, trying some self-massage, and getting in nature.
3. Surround yourself with positivity
Yes, even during such a stressful day and a scary time, we can still choose positivity. Not necessarily positivity in election outcomes, but positivity in life. “Gratitude is always the best place to start when countering any anxiety,” said Deedee Cummings, M.Ed, LPCC, JD, therapist and author. “Now is not the time to surround yourself with negativity as it will only make you feel worse. Focusing on positivity (and there is always positivity to be found) will help remind you there is still good.” Call up people who make you laugh, play with your pet who is always happy, or read a book with a happy ending. Focusing on the positive is not always easy during tough times, but coming from a place of gratitude can help ease stress in any situation. Take time to make a list of all the things you’re grateful for today, whether it’s big or small.
4. Remind yourself of the constant factors
No matter what happens, the outcome of the election does mean a lot of big changes. If the potential changes are feeling overwhelming, try focusing on the factors of your life that will stay the same tomorrow, next month, and next year. Katie Lear, LCMHC, RPT, RDT suggested, “It can also be helpful to remind yourself of the day-to-day parts of your own life that will remain constant no matter who wins; family, hobbies, and career goals don’t disappear overnight.”
While we always encourage educating ourselves about the major changes this election could mean for our country, it’s OK to focus on what’s remaining the same in your own life, if just for today. Make a list of everything about your life that won’t change no matter who is in office (your dog will still play with you, your sister will still make you laugh, and you’ll still love finding new banana bread recipes), in order to heal overwhelm.
5. Connect with the present moment
Elections are always stressful, but this one feels particularly overwhelming. If you find yourself anxious about what the potential results could mean for the future, try connecting with the present moment. “Find small moments of peace where you can connect with the present moment,” Williams suggested. “Taking deliberate deep breaths whenever you feel stress rise is like a mini-meditation for your brain and body. It’s one small thing you can do to help regulate your stress during this time.” Try breathwork, or simply putting a hand on your stomach to remind yourself to breath deeply as you feel anxiety increase. You can also try mindfulness to reconnect yourself to the present moment. Notice the temperature of the room, what the candle that you’re lighting smells like, or how each sip of coffee tastes.
6. Make a plan to contribute to causes you care about
If the election doesn’t go the way that we hoped, it doesn’t mean you stop fighting for causes you care about and doing what you can to build the country and world you want. If you’re feeling out of control, turn off the news and make a tangible plan of how you’re going to make a difference, whether it’s yearly or monthly donations, researching organizations to volunteer on a regular basis, or even how you can help out the people you know. “The best way any of us can keep up our sense of empowerment is by continuing to contribute to causes that matter to us, regardless of election results,” Lear recommended. “Volunteer, donate, lend a supportive ear to a friend—these things help other people and promote positive change, while also safeguarding our own mental health. Don’t just save community engagement for election years; make it part of your regular self-care.”
Cummings agreed that taking action should be a part of your self-care routine and can improve your mental health. “Remember that the world keeps spinning and you are a crucial piece of the puzzle we call life,” she said. “We need you and we need each other. Focus on you and all the things you can do to create a ripple of kindness. This will help rebalance you.”
How to Enact Change in Your Community
We get it: you’re feeling a lot of emotions RN. Some of those emotions might be hopelessness, discouragement, and sadness. While it’s important to acknowledge and express those emotions (see point #1), you can turn that hopelessness into purpose—once you’re ready. If you’re not yet ready to channel any emotions you may be experiencing, you might want to consider connecting with a therapist, who can help you work through what you’re feeling. “No matter what happens in this election, we can all work for what we believe in,” said Tina B. Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and author. Tessina suggested taking those discouraged feelings and finding some hope where you can by working for a cause you believe in.
Maybe the election results will be a wake-up call to you to put in more effort into the causes you care about, or maybe it will be a motivation to work harder to achieve a better world. Turn your pain into purpose by enacting the change you wish you saw in the election in your community. Lear agreed, “When I speak to young clients—many of whom are feeling incredibly hopeless and disempowered right now—I remind them about how long the arc of justice is and how much can still change in their lifetimes.”
A good place to start is to find a cause you care about. Maybe it has to do with elections and voting, working to boost turnout and access in your state. But maybe it’s not election-related at all. If you’re passionate about addressing food insecurity, homelessness, criminal justice reform, animal rights, reproductive rights, healthcare, or just about anything else, chances are good that there’s some sort of organization or movement with which you can get involved. If there’s not an organization with a physical presence in your city, look further out and see what might be able to be done from afar.
If you’re passionate about civic engagement in your city, start by learning about how government works in your city. Attend city council meetings and other open community meetings, chat with your representatives, and get involved.
Take a beat, take care of yourself, and rest—and then get to work.
Please consult a doctor before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.