October 4, 2023

While you might experience a sense of relief when the 2020 election ads stop dominating commercial breaks and your mailbox is no longer flooded with fliers from local candidates, election stress doesn’t end on Election Day.

In fact, your distress might increase if your candidates didn’t win. You might feel panicked about what’s going to happen to the economy or you might be worried about health insurance changes and pandemic policies.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to stay mentally strong even when your candidate didn’t win the election.

Accept What Happened

You don’t have to agree with the election results to accept them. You can accept that it happened without accepting that it was okay.

Acceptance is important because it frees you up from thinking things like, “This shouldn’t have happened,” and “More people should have voted!”

Remember, sometimes the candidates you want to win will get elected. Sometimes, they won’t. Accept that the result is disappointing, scary, or downright infuriating, but don’t waste time wishing things were different.

Name Your Feelings

During uncertain times, you will probably feel a lot of uncomfortable emotions. Simply naming those feelings can be helpful.

There’s research that supports the idea that labeling your feelings reduces the intensity of them.1

When you put a name to your emotions, it helps your brain make a little more sense of them. Of course, you might be feeling several emotions at once (emotions are messy like that).

If that’s the case, just try to name all the emotions you’re experiencing and you might find that you automatically start to feel a little bit better.

Look at the Facts

When you start imagining catastrophic things happening, it can be helpful to back up for a minute and look at the facts.

What evidence do you have that whatever you’re thinking is definitely going to come true? What are the chances that the things will be as bad as you think?

Of course, it’s important to be cautious about where you obtain your facts. If you get them from only from news sources who have the same political views as you, you might feel more overwhelmed by the data.

So rather than fuel your panic with more data that you already know, take a look at facts from “the other side.”

Argue the Opposite

Whenever you catch yourself thinking about how bad things are going to be, argue the opposite. Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself:

  • What’s something good that could happen?
  • How might things not be as bad as you predict?
  • What is something that could be better for some people as a result of the election?

This exercise isn’t about developing unrealistically positive predictions. Instead, it’s about helping you see that there are many different things that could happen. Your catastrophic predictions are just one example of how things could turn out.

Opening your eyes to more possibilities can help you see that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative.

Limit Your Media Consumption

Tuning into the news or doing a little “doomscrolling” might cause you to feel a little better for a second—you likely get a little twisted relief when your beliefs about how awful things are get reinforced.

But reading, watching, and hearing more bad news will ultimately cause you to feel worse. And it won’t do anyone any good. The news isn’t going to change. And most of the headlines are only going to fuel your anxiety and despair.

So limit the amount of time you spend consuming news and be mindful of where you’re getting your news from.

Stop Commiserating

You might be tempted to contact your friends and family members who share your disappointment to talk about how upset you feel. While acknowledging your feelings to one another may initially help you gain some emotional support, talking in more depth might actually backfire.

Whether you’re the one sharing the worst case scenarios or you’re just listening to someone who is dwelling on the negative, commiserating keeps you stuck in a dark place.

Be proactive about talking about other subjects. And if someone else wants to keep talking about how horrible life is going to be, explain how talking too much about dreadful subjects isn’t helpful to you.

It may feel uncomfortable at first to change subjects (or even end the conversation) but ultimately, you’ll be doing yourself and the other person a favor.

Focus on What You Can Control

There are so many things that you can’t control—like the outcome of the election. And focusing on those things will only make you feel helpless because you can’t change anything.

Your time is much better spent focusing on the things you can control—like how well you take care of yourself, the subjects you talk about with other people, and how you spend your time.

Focusing on your actions and your attitude will help you feel more in control of your life which is a key component to good psychological health.

Resist the Urge to Debate on Social Media

There may be the occasional fruitful conversation on social media about politics where people politely share their opinions. But, those conversations online are rare.

You’re much more likely to see arguments that resort to put downs and hostility—even among friends and family members. It can be quite tempting to get involved sometimes so you can “set someone straight” or “educate them on the truth.”

But, people’s political opinions are rarely changed by someone’s social media comments. And arguing doesn’t necessarily show you’re a strong person who is willing to stand up for what you believe in.

Instead, it may show you’re willing to waste your time arguing with someone who probably won’t care what you have to say. Keeping that in mind may help you resist the urge to comment on posts you disagree with.

You might find it helpful to mute certain friends, family members, or accounts who post a lot of politically-charged content. You might feel better when you aren’t exposed to that type of content as much.

Reach for Healthy Coping Skills

When you’re stressed out you might be tempted to turn to things that give you some immediate relief—like eating junk food and binge watching Netflix.

But indulging too much in the things that aren’t good for you will only cause bigger problems down the road.

It’s important to have some healthy coping skills you can depend on when you’re feeling bad. Some ideas include:

  • Reading a book
  • Practicing yoga
  • Doing some deep breathing
  • Writing in a journal
  • Getting some exercise

Any of these examples can improve your psychological well-being in both the short and long-term.

Take Care of Yourself

When you’re stressed out and feeling bad you might find yourself thinking, “I’ll eat healthier and sleep better when I’m not so stressed out.”

But the key to reducing your stress is about taking care of your body now. Sleeping a solid eight hours, eating healthy food, and engaging in physical activities could do wonders for how you feel.

Self-care doesn’t have to involve meditation or yoga if you aren’t into those things. Instead, it can be about finding the strategies that help you function at your best.

Change the Channel in Your Brain

When you find yourself focusing on things that aren’t helpful—like how awful you think the future is going to be—change the channel in your brain.

Just telling yourself to think about something else isn’t likely to work, however. In fact, the more you remind yourself, “don’t think about that,” the more you likely you are to perseverate on the negative.

The best way to change the channel in your brain is to do something that distracts your brain for a minute. Sometimes, physical activity helps. At other times, a quick change of scenery can help.

Experiment with different activities until you find what works for you. Just don’t allow yourself to sit around making catastrophic predictions about the future.

Schedule Time to Worry

If you’re worrying about lots of different topics—the economy, safety of the country, and government regulations—scheduling a worry time might help.

Set aside 15 minutes a day to worry about whatever you want. When your worrying time comes around, let yourself worry. Write it down or just think about all the things you’re worried about. Then, when your time is up, move on and do something else.

When you catch yourself worrying outside of your scheduled “worrying time,” remind yourself that you’ll worry later.

Studies show when people practice this regularly, they are able to worry less throughout the day by containing their worries to a short period of time.2

Take Positive Action

While you can’t change the outcome of the election, you can still take some sort of positive action. You might take action that involves community service or perhaps even fundraise for a future election.

Or, you might decide to just do a kind deed. Send a letter to someone from your past telling them you appreciate them. Or do a random act of kindness for a stranger.

This can help you feel more positive about the world while also fighting of a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

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