You might have listened to my podcast episode on election anxiety (if not, check out episode #36 of my podcast, "All The Hard Things"). But now that the election is tomorrow, it feels like a lot more is left to be said. This goes beyond just the election and the uncertainty of the outcome. As I write this, there is breaking news on how they’re legitimately building a “scalable” wall around the White House. Like, what the actual hell?
My goal for this post is to give you even more tips to handle not only the election anxiety as it approaches, but also how to handle the outcome - regardless of who becomes our next president. I also want to provide some guidance as to how to handle all of the aftermath, because unfortunately, I think there will be a significant amount of that.
First, your best bet to handling the anticipation of the election outcome is to practice mindfulness and sitting with uncertainty. These are two concepts that are very difficult to do when we’re anxious, but are absolutely necessary if we want to prevent our anxiety from getting in the driver’s seat. The goal here is to be able to let our anxiety be a passenger in the car but not let it drive. Also know that your anxiety in this situation is normal. We are all in this together, and you are in good company. The anxiety about this problem isn’t personal to you - it’s normal in this situation, because so much is at stake, and it’s such an emotionally wrapped concept for some of us.
Sitting with uncertainty in this situation looks like saying.. maybe, maybe not. Maybe Trump will be president again. Maybe Biden will be our new president. Maybe what I wanted to have happen will happen. Maybe it won’t. Maybe there will be civil unrest like we’ve never seen before. Maybe not. Totally surrendering all of it as best you can and letting it happen. Letting that uncomfortable-ness be with you rather than actively trying to get rid of it. Feeling it and letting it be there and reinforcing this idea that everything is uncertain and we cannot be sure, or practically prepare, for problems that have not come up yet.
As far as other practical things you can do, consider whether now is a grand ol’ time for a social media break. If removing yourself completely from social media feels like too much of a plunge, consider removing the apps from your phone and making them accessible only on your computer. By doing this, you make it slightly more inconvenient for you to access the apps, therefore you’re less likely to log on mindlessly and more frequently than you’d like. Consider putting time limits or time frames on watching the news rather than allowing it to be something that you just have on in the background (*ahem* me at this moment).
Now - for the election. Here is a recap of my election anxiety episode. I talked about how there are really only four solutions to any problem, which is based on a teaching by Marsha Linehan in the field of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The four options are 1) change the problem, 2) change your perception of the problem, 3) practice radical acceptance, and 4) stay miserable. Once the outcome is here - whenever that happens, it’s important to know that we can only really fall in one of those four solutions. We can’t really change the problem of who becomes president once he is identified. Can you change your perception of the problem? Can you practice radical acceptance? Radical acceptance, again, is the idea of “it is what it is”. It’s not to be confused with complacency - rather, it helps you acknowledge your pain and unrest while not allowing it to fester into suffering. You could also stay miserable, which… well… will probably be hard to get out of for a while. It’s okay to stay here for a while, actually. Just know that the train eventually has to get out of the station and we gotta get a move on somewhere else.
Okay, so what about after the results are here, what about all of the other civil unrest that we’re all gearing up for? The reason why businesses are boarding up their windows, why they’re boarding up the White House?
My best suggestion for you is to bring it back to what you CAN control. There is only so much about this situation that you can control. If you voted, great. That’s within your control - even after the election results have come and gone. You control how much energy you put into conversations and with whom you engage in those conversations. As far as how much news and social media you consume - yep, you control that, too. When you inevitably hear someone else’s opinion about the election or results of the election, you are in control of how you respond and what boundaries, if any, you put in place around this.
As for what you can’t control, we have no control over where other people get THEIR information. We have no control over how other people respond to YOUR opinions. We, ultimately, have no control over the political opinions of others, what others say even if it’s misinformation and even if it’s hurtful. We have no control over what shows up in the news or in social media.
Also, it's critical that we stay away from "why" questions. Instead, understand that we may never understand. It’s going to be easy - like, really, really, really easy for all of us to ask “why?” Why do people say things like that? Why would he say that? Why would he do that? Why wouldn’t he do this? Those why questions will do nothing but frustrate us and serve as verbal rumination. We go around and around with the initial intention of feeling better, and we might feel relief in the moment, but ultimately, it serves to increase our frustration, sadness, and feelings of hopelessness.
At the end of the day, we are only responsible for ourselves. We can only control our actions and our reactions to the actions of others. Everything feels so heavy lately, and I know it definitely feels like a weight off of my chest when I remember and acknowledge all of the things I can control. By focusing on what I can control, I’m reminded that not all of this weight is mine to carry. I can put boundaries in place to both protect myself and to keep negativity out.
And above all, I know that I can’t solve problems that haven’t happened yet. I believe in my ability to solve problems if and when they get here. I believe in my ability to get through hard things. I voted, I’m in control of what I consume for news and social media, and I can only own what is within my control.
So that’s what I’ll be focusing on for the rest of tonight. And tomorrow. And every day thereafter for as long as this takes to settle.
And you can, too. You can cope with whatever life throws your way. Regardless of what the outcome is here, it’s going to be a hard couple of weeks.
But we can do hard things. And we can get through this.
Keep on breathing, guys. In this together.