Two more months of this incredibly stressful, unprecedented year. And we still have the post-election mess and a probable COVID spike to get through. Any other year we’d be looking forward to the holidays, not wondering how we’re going to get through the winter.
There has been a lot said about how to handle the stress leading up to November 3rd. A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 56 percent of respondents felt stressed about the election. But what about the aftermath?
If you’re like me, the anxiety can be overwhelming at times. To prepare for what’s around the corner I’ve done some research to come up with new ideas for practicing self care and relieving stress during the coming months.
You’re not alone!
Virtually everyone is feeling the negative effects of 2020. That “we’re all in this together” mantra may not help but there is actual proof that you’re not the only one feeling helpless and suffering.
A recent survey conducted by CARAVAN on behalf of The Maple Counseling Center, a nonprofit mental health organization, found that 52% of respondents think their mental health has suffered because of the presidential election. And that number increases to 64% for Gen Zers and 57% for Millennials.
But wait…there’s more! One in four Americans surveyed about the election felt rage and 58% felt worried about the political and post-election climate. And 38% said that it was even impacting their sleep.
“Election Stress Disorder”
Jason Woodrum, a researcher and licensed therapist calls this phenomenon “election stress disorder.”
“This uncertainty that’s in the air for months on end can often manifest in a loss of sleep, irritability, anxiety, and depression,” Woodrum says. “While research is ongoing, it is easy to hypothesize that this known phenomenon can compound with underlying anxieties around the ongoing global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social unrest we’re experiencing in 2020.”
The feeling and knowledge that things are out of our control can add to this overwhelming stress, Woodrum says.
“Media narratives and horse race coverage of polls exacerbate this sensation, with constant ups and downs related to the standing of the candidate of our choice. In many ways, it’s like watching a version of the Super Bowl that lasts a year as opposed to 3 hours,” Woodrum says. “We feel a discomfort coming into contact with our perceived powerlessness as it relates to this moment.”
Ok, so we know WHAT it is, now to figure out how to cope with it.
Monitor how much news you consume
Uninterrupted exposure to political upheaval, COVID and other negative stories may keep us informed, but too much time spent watching the news often exacerbates anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms of trauma.
Pay attention to how the news is impacting your mental health. “If you feel like the events of the evening news are too much, turn it off or stop reading,” Woodrum says. “We all get to determine how much news consumption is valuable versus detrimental to our own sense of wellness.”
Ariane Ling, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health in New York defines “doomscrolling” as “the act of endlessly scrolling down one’s news apps, Twitter, and social media and reading bad news.” And now, more than ever, there is a plethora of bad news. “The pandemic has exacerbated these habits in many ways, including the fact that there is no shortage of doomsday news,” she shares.
Be wary of social media triggers
Taking a two or three week break from social media may be the answer for some who get triggered by the
constant barrage of commentary. And announcing your departure isn’t necessary. When someone lets their social media friends know they’re checking out there is an unspoken pressure to “stick to the plan”. Leave yourself wiggle room to come and go as you see fit in the moment.
Erin Vogel, PhD, social psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, suggests taking a break from social media during election chaos could be helpful for many people. “It’s very possible to stay informed and stay connected with others while still taking a break from social media,” she said.
Steer clear of family and friends who want to argue (if possible)
It’s no secret that many relationships have been harmed, and even fractured, over 2020 politics. Now that Election Day has come and gone, there isn’t any point in arguing over who will win or why a certain candidate is better. All of the votes have already been cast.
Josh Jonas, clinical director of the Village Institute for Psychotherapy in New York suggests making the post-election relationship more important than who a person voted for. “When we’re talking about politics, we’re not just really talking about politics,” he says “We’re talking about values. We’re talking about beliefs. Then, all of a sudden, we feel that they may not share those values and beliefs with us. It can feel scary and even kind of threatening. The fear is, I’m not going to be able to connect with you as deeply as I want. I’m not going to be able to get as close to you as I want.”
So what happens when there are lingering feelings of resentment or, even worse, outright fury? Taking a break from people who want to rehash and argue is often the best course of action. Explain that you are stepping away for your own mental health and will check in again soon. When is “soon”? That should be up to you. And if you’re unable to remove yourself from an argument because you actually live with the person who wants to fight, see below for steps you can take to care for yourself even when the “trigger” is in the same house.
The NIH says adults need7-8 hours of sleep each night to stay in good mental and physical health. Lack of sleep during the best of times very often leads to stress, injury and impedes overall wellness. The simple act of getting proper rest may be the #1 form of self-care you can practice during times of extreme stress. Here’s how you can help yourself get proper sleep:
1. Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. I know, this isn’t an easy task when you’re trying to juggle work and family, but sleep needs to take precedence over inessential activities. It’s important to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. Make it a priority!
2. Don’t sleep too much OR too little.
The Mayo Clinic recommends getting no more than eight hours of sleep each night (or day for some people who work at night) but the ideal number for a healthy adult is around seven hours. Most people don’t need more than eight hours in bed to achieve this goal but, if you’re someone who tosses and turns before reaching REM sleep, you may have to do a little extra work at first, especially now.
3. Try natural sleep aids.
Now matter how hard you try, you may still have trouble falling asleep naturally. Sleep aids can help!
Melatonin is a hormone your brain makes naturally to control your sleep cycle. Many factors can cause your body to produce far too little melatonin, with stress and anxiety at the top of the list.
Melatonin supplements are a safe and easy way to help achieve healthy sleep patterns and CBD, which promotes relaxation and combats anxiety and pain, is melatonin’s perfect partner in the fight against sleeplessness.
Cleaning as a relaxation tool
Cleaning has, historically, been the bane of my existence. I have always outsourced this task, even when I could barely afford a cleaning person. Since COVID, I have decided that I could (and should) do it myself and, surprisingly, find vacuuming and mopping the floors an incredibly calming experience.
Dr. Sal Raichbach, a psychologist from the Ambrosia Treatment Center, says the cleanliness of your home can have a big effect on your mental well-being. “Where you live is an extension of yourself…” And not just for natural born neat freaks! “Even people who don’t enjoy cleaning find that if they approach it as a form of self-care instead of a chore, it can be very therapeutic.”
Here are a few tips I found when researching how to make cleaning a relaxing task:
- Listen – Try downloading a book on tape or podcast and listen while scrubbing. If music makes you happy, make a play list of your favorite “feel good” tunes. Blocking out the world while being productive around the house can really work!
- Make a list – Back in March I made a list of all of the major cleaning tasks that had to be completed to keep my house and yard in ship shape form. Ticking off items on that list is truly satisfying.
- Take before and after photos – If organizing a closet is on your “to do” list take a pic of the carnage pre-clean. Visual evidence of your hard work will help that feeling of accomplishment!
- Stay on schedule – It’s hard to do when you’re stressed, especially for those who have to work outside the house. But keeping up with a cleaning schedule helps to keep the wolf from the door, especially if you have pets. If I don’t keep up with the dog hair…..well, let’s just say it’s not pretty.
- Count your steps – We all know that exercise helps decrease stress levels. Why not multi-task and clean while getting in your steps? Slap on the FitBit and get to work.
Start the Holidays Early
My dear friend Eileen has decided to begin the holidays early in her house. The day before the election she started to plan her holiday decorating and even brought some boxes down from the attic in anticipation. I’m not suggesting we skip right over Thanksgiving, of course, but why not extend the spirit of season this year?
The stressful news cycle has been getting to me lately so I decided to do something I have never done before….I am now an avid Hallmark and Lifetime Holiday movie buff. They’re formulaic and dependable and, this year, they’re even featuring some same sex romances in some of the stories.
You be You!
You may laugh at the silliness of my coping mechanisms but that’s actually the point. Whatever can offer you a sense of escape from the chaos that is surrounding us all right now is the key to your self-care. Think long and hard about what will help you get through these tough times and immerse yourself in it, no matter how silly or out-of-character it may be.
And if your traditional methods for relaxation aren’t doing the trick, try something new. You have nothing to lose! I mean, it’s 2020. Nowhere to go but up, right?