Elections and anxiety often go hand in hand, even if you’re not frantically refreshing the results every five minutes. The American Psychological Association found that 68% of survey respondents said that the 2020 election was a significant source of stress in their lives. If you find yourself among the worried and weary this election cycle, here are some evidence-based strategies that can help you cope.
1. Try five-finger breathing.
Dr. Judson Brewer, director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, endorses a meditation technique you can take anywhere:
Hold one hand in front of you and spread your fingers. Slowly trace the outside of your hand with your other pointer finger. When you trace up a finger, breathe in, and when you trace down, breathe out. Do this as you move through each of your fingers and back again.
2. Count backward.
The American Psychological Association recommends other simple grounding exercises that you can try wherever you find yourself on Election Day. One involves counting backward by three in your head, starting with 100. By centering your thoughts on a precise, specific task, you can distract your brain from focusing on negative thoughts.
3. Cool down — literally.
Marsha Linehan, a professor emeritus in psychology at the University of Washington, is credited with popularizing an innovative, if shocking, way to lower stress: Take a deep breath and then plunge your face into a bowl or sink filled with ice water for 15 to 30 seconds. Jenny Taitz, an assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote about the practice for The New York Times, remarking on how it can slow your heart rate and enable blood to flow more easily to your brain.
“I love watching my clients try this over our telehealth calls and seeing firsthand how quickly this shifts their perspective,” she wrote.
4. Move, even a little.
A wealth of research shows that exercise can combat stress. Jennifer Heisz, director of the NeuroFit Lab at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and author of “Move the Body, Heal the Mind,” told the Times that working out can help “soothe the anxious amygdala,” the part of our brain that scans for danger. Even a walk around the block can offer some relief for an uneasy mind. Or you can try our Joy Workout, developed by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal: six research-backed moves designed to improve your mood in under 10 minutes.
5. Breathe like a baby.
Some psychologists recommend diaphragmatic breathing as a tool for tackling panic attacks. The strategy can also help soothe general stress. Focus on expanding your belly as you breathe, like a baby would, which can send more oxygen to the brain and lower levels of distress.
6. Know your doom-scrolling limits.
Instead of constantly monitoring the news, consider plotting out specific times when you will look for election updates — maybe during your morning commute or amid a midafternoon coffee break. “Taking a break doesn’t mean you don’t care,” Taitz wrote for the Times. It means you’re better equipped to engage with the news and to process your reaction in the moments you do set aside to check in.