Saturday, January 21, 2017

Seven Ways to Handle Election Anxiety

 I’m seeing a lot of fear & anxiety on social media these days. People are dismayed, alarmed, and outright paranoid. The panic is so palpable that it’s bound to be affecting those of us dealing with depression or anxiety. Maybe you’re getting caught up in more online arguments these days; maybe you spend an inordinate amount of time defending yourself and others, or maybe you’re the one who’s enraged and attacking everybody you think has ruined your world.

It’s time to take a deep breath and relax.

Regardless of where on the political spectrum you fall, I suspect you and I aren’t that much different. We feel passionately about our political causes and get discouraged when others disparage them. We want to see the right people elected and feel down when we think the wrong people are elected. Aside from a political spectrum of ideologies, there is an emotional political spectrum, too. Most people don’t care much about politics. Others care deeply. But on the far end of the spectrum are those of us who become emotionally invested in a candidate or issue. This can lead to crashing depression and heightened anxiety when the outcome isn’t what we wanted.

Unfortunately, I don’t often back the winner, so I’m all too acquainted with disappointment on election eve. Here are seven tips I have learned that might help you take control of your election anxiety:

  1. Unplug – You don’t need politics like an IV drip. Take a break. Put the phone down. Close the laptop lid. Put your computer to sleep. Get up and walk away for a while. Anxiety and anger can ramp up excessively on social media networks. Too much contention will agitate your mind and rob you of peace. Go find something positive to do instead of battling friends and enemies on the internet.
  2. Avoid fear-mongering news – Sensational news sells. They need the clicks. They need the eyeballs. Why report something straight when you can spin it, score political points, and make money, right? A steady diet of partisan news skews reality. Both conservative and liberal news sites have this problem. The news will make you angry for no reason. Most of these events aren’t as bad as they are being portrayed, or the truth has yet to be fully reported. There is usually no need for fear or panic. On a day that you feel particularly susceptible to alarmism, stay away from your usual news sites. It’s OK. Friends and co-workers will keep you up to date on the truly big news. Everything else is just noise.
  3. Build a bridge – This one may be hard for some of you, but have you considered reaching out to somebody on the other side of the aisle? For example, if you are upset about President Trump, ask a conservative friend how they handled their anxiety and depression without panicking or despairing during President Obama’s eight years. If the protests are frightening you, ask a liberal friend how they held themselves together during the height of the Tea Party movement. Don’t just dismiss your friends because they voted for the “wrong” candidate. Their coping skills may help you.
  4. Decide to be in control – I am surprised how many people don’t want to be comforted. They feel their fear is justified, so they hold onto it like Gollum’s ring, despite it making them miserable. Instead, we should employ our coping strategies when things are at their most heightened. Don’t let fear carry you away with the political winds. You aren’t a leaf. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and decide to be calm. You can’t do much to change who was elected until the next election, so change what you can. Start with yourself.
  5. Write to your elected officials – Use your fear and anxiety as fuel. Refocus that apprehension into something constructive, like writing to your elected officials. Even if they belong to the opposing party, they still represent you. There is no such thing as a mandate in America. Let your thoughts be heard. Be civil. Be kind. Be constructive. This can be a healing and productive activity.
  6. Don’t panic over imagined fears – Focus only on what is real, and what has happened. Fake news, partisan news, rumor, and lies will feed your fears if you allow them to. We can imagine such terrible things! But how much of it is born of our anxieties? Fearful ideation harms us and feeds the part of us we have no control over.
  7. Presidents come and go. Relax – The flipside to our wonderful, stable form of government is the rancorous election we experience every two years — complete with all that drama and heat. This has been part of our grand tradition for 228 years. Each election cycle, the pendulum swings a bit left or a bit right. Some arcs are wider than others, but the pendulum never stops swinging. Breathe… It will be OK.

If you like politics, you may want to read the chapter on tribes in my book.