Local experts offer advice on dealing with election anxietyFile Photo provided by Dena Mellick
If you are on edge about the Nov. 6 midterm elections, join the club.
No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, waiting to hear the outcome of tomorrow’s vote can be stressful. This election can be particularly stressful for Democratic voters. As a recent Politico article notes, these voters are still hurt by the outcome of the 2016 election and deeply suspicious of polls predicting a so-called “blue wave” that would see Democrats regain control of the House, Senate or both.
Decaturish reached out to local experts in the counseling field for their advice on how to deal with the moodiness and intensity of the next 24 hours.
Edliz ‘edi’ Wade, an associate professional counselor working in the Decatur area said the first step is to acknowledge that your feelings of anxiety are valid.
“In the last two years, a lot of my sessions have centered around current affairs because it does personally impact people,” she said. “After Civil Rights, this is the most personally impacted we’ve been by what’s been happening in the political climate. It’s important to validate your experience and feelings of what’s happening.”
She said that people on both sides of the political argument are feeling intense emotions ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“I’m not a personal fan of our current administration,” Wade said. “That doesn’t mean that intense feelings aren’t happening on either side. That’s why we’re calling it ‘polarization.'”
So, you’ve acknowledged your feelings are legitimate? What now?
“I would encourage people to engage in activities they find pleasurable and calming versus constantly checking social media and engaging in political conversation,” she said.
Wade added that people who are experiencing intense emotions who get into political arguments might say or do things they regret later.
Another good idea, Wade said, is to develop a plan of action in case things don’t go the way you expect.
“A good action plan that could be calling your [elected officials] the next day or donating to a cause or charity you believe in,” Wade said. “Even if your elected official doesn’t win, your causes can still be promoted with your personal engagement.”
Catherine Moon, a local therapist specializing in anxiety, said the angst in the air is palpable.
“We’re all on edge right now,” Moon said. “It feels like there is a pressure in the air and everything is coming down to Nov. 6.”
She said the fear exists on both sides of the political spectrum.
“Those of us who have had recent disappointments in elections feel dejected and fearful,” Moon said. “We don’t want to put another hope in a great candidate only to have those hopes crushed. Those of us who feel relieved by recent election votes may feel scared of having those we admire replaced.”
How do you deal with it?
Moon said it’s important to understand the cause of your anxiety.
“What is underlying both sides is fear,” she said. “And if we don’t recognize and sit with that fear, we will act out of anger and blame. We will blame our neighbors and coworkers for their votes or inaction instead of respecting everyone’s right to choose. Anxiety is a fear over a future that we cannot control. Anxiety leads us to try to find reasons and ways to control that uncertainty. The way to cope with uncertainty is to do our part in changing the future, then accepting whatever comes graciously. If it’s not the outcome we want, we keep doing our part to change the future.”
Moon advised doing something simple to calm yourself: breathe.
“If you notice yourself experiencing a high amount of anxiety in the next couple of days, I encourage you to first just take a break and focus on your breathing,” Moon said. “Our fight-or-flight can get activated, which shuts us down from being able to think rationally and sit in a difficult conversation. When this happens, breathe out longer than you breathe in, at a count of three seconds in, and six seconds out. Do this for as long as you can, ideally 10 minutes. This allows the body to start pumping the brakes on our emotions and brings our brain back online. Our anxiety calms and we can continue the day.”
She said feeling hopeless about the outcome of the election is not productive.
“Dealing with our anxiety is two-fold,” she said. “First, instead of staying in a place of hopelessness, we need to remember that ultimately, we do have a say in how this election can turn out — we can get active and donate to campaigns we support, we can canvass for the representatives we support, and we can vote for them. The second is that we learn to accept whatever happens as reality — even if we don’t like it. This is a concept called ‘radical acceptance.’ In the moment, I repeat this phrase to myself, ‘I don’t like it, I can’t change it, I accept it.’ Then, once I accept the reality in the moment, I start gearing up for doing my part for the next election.”
Moon said that responding to the results out of fear and anger won’t help change anyone’s mind about the outcome.
“Ultimately, the fear that leads to anger and shaming is just more divisive,” Moon said. “That’s not what changes people’s minds. What changes people’s minds is understanding and love. So, if you want to help your loved one see your side, you first have to listen to them and understand where they’re coming from, and validate that their thought process makes sense, even though you completely disagree with it. Then share why you believe what you do. Respect that people have their right to their own opinions, even if you disagree.”
Zainab Delawalla, another psychologist working in the Decatur area, said it’s important to have perspective on elections. Shifts in voter sentiment and the balance of power are not uncommon, she said.
“Research on people’s happiness levels show that no matter what happens to upset the balance we have, over time we adjust to the new normal, so our day-to-day contentment and happiness doesn’t change that much,” Delawalla said.
She said shortly after the 2016 election, she gave a lecture on the topic of happiness. Many people in the audience were dejected. After a few months, people began to adjust to the new normal even if they didn’t like it, she said.
“Keep things in perspective that the pendulum always tends to swing politically in the extremes, and over the long-term we try to find a happy medium,” Delawalla said. “The pendulum swung far right 2016 and will now try to swing a little bit to the left. But whether it happens this time around or not, I think [it’s helpful] knowing that over time things to tend to settle in the middle.”