In just a few days, citizens across our country will head to the polls to choose the next President of the United States. Together, we will make a critical decision about the future of our country. After months of ruthless banter, an onslaught of toxic social media, and deafening political commentary, we will stand in line, wait our turn, and do our part.
And if you’re like me, you’re feeling super anxious about the outcome.
Elections create anxiety and make us feel small because they remind us of an important truth: We control basically nothing. Nothing. Voting is like going to the state fair and playing a carnival game where you throw those Ping-Pong balls into fishbowls and try to win a prize—but you only get one Ping-Pong ball and one throw. That’s it.
And let’s not forget that the 2020 election is arriving at the end of an unimaginable year. We’ve been drowning in protests, pandemics, loneliness, social isolation, wildfires, hurricanes, closed schools and churches, and deep racial divisions and tension—it has been the perfect cocktail for a personal and psychological nightmare.
But, good folks, November 3 will come and go. And regardless of the outcome—whether we come together or experience further division—the world will keep spinning, even if it takes weeks for the results to come in. Don’t let anxiety and your fear of the unknown steal your joy, your presence of mind, or your courage to act during this season. Here are a few ways to deal with election anxiety as we approach the big day.
You Have to Vote
You must vote. You have to. Voting is your opportunity to let your voice be heard. It’s your responsibility to participate in making this country a better place—for yourself, your family and your neighbors. Take ownership of your life and your future by casting your ballot.
Voting is one of our sacred rights as citizens of this country. Even if our democracy is flawed at times (and it is), we get to carry on a legacy that was hard won by generations of courageous women and men before us. This year, like every election before, you get one shot. Take your shot with dignity.
Decision made: We’re all going to vote.
Limit Your Media Intake
Have you heard the term doomscrolling? It’s the habit of mindlessly scrolling through the latest videos, articles and tweets, searching for the next shocking headline. We’ve all been there—it feels like being caught on a hamster wheel of death and destruction. And that’s not much of an exaggeration, because a steady diet of catastrophic news—especially when you can’t do much about it—is bad for your health. Information that creates fear, panic and stress triggers a complex physiological reaction. Your heart rate and blood pressure spike and stress hormones flood your body. It’s hard to sleep, to focus, to rest and to breathe.
On the side of each electronic device is an off button. Use it.
By now, you know who you’re voting for (and by the way—everyone around you does, too, so there’s no need to keep arguing and adding to the noise). You don’t have to keep flooding your brain with the latest arguments and opinions and predictions. Just put down the phone. Protect yourself by setting boundaries for when and how often you’ll access media of any kind.
Get Involved Locally
Very few of us will ever make a big splash in Washington, D.C., but you can make a difference in your neighborhood, your town and your state. In fact, you can make more of an impact on this level than you realize. Decisive action helps reduce anxiety because it empowers you to focus on what you can control.
Read up on your local candidates. Learn what they stand for and talk to people in your community about them. Who are the judges, representatives, senators, school board members and city commissioners on your ballot? Their time in office will have a direct impact on your streets, on your kids’ classrooms, and on how local businesses are run.
Set an Example
Your example can be a tremendous force for good.
You don’t have to hold political office to model what it means to be a good citizen. And, for real, we are in need of good citizens! Whether we realize it or not, our families, coworkers, internet friends and real friends are watching the examples we set. They are paying attention to our bickering, our complaining and our mindless fixation on our screens.
Being a good citizen looks like getting intentional about kindness: Tip your waiter or waitress obnoxiously. Be grateful with sales people. Let folks over in traffic. If you are in a season of blessing, pick up the cost of someone’s groceries behind you in line.
Specific to the election, I’m going to take my son with me when I vote. I want him to sit in that line with me. He’s 10—it will be painful for all of us—but it’s important to me that he has memories seared in his heart and mind about how important this was for his dad and for our country.
Make Time for Rest, Kindness and Play
This blizzard-hurricane-dumpster-fire of a year calls for a whole lot of rest and play. Make time to just be a human being. Laugh. Plan a super-hot surprise date for your spouse. Get your friends together to kick a soccer ball around. Take your family on a walk around the neighborhood and wave at people in crosswalks.
Let’s choose to be kind over the next few weeks. We are better than how we’ve been acting. Change starts when individuals choose to regain their humanity by simply acting like human beings. So go first.
Connect With Others and Value Your Community
I want you to think of valuing your community in two ways. First, when you’re feeling anxious, it’s a sign that you’re feeling disconnected. Spend time with those who support and love you—your spouse, your children and your friends. Talk about your fears and listen to the fears of others. Seek to listen first and explain second.
And next, I want you to value people who don’t align with you politically. No matter who wins, we’re going to pump gas next to each other at the same stations. We’re going to wait in the same carpool lines to get our kids from school. We’re going to share meals next to each other at restaurants. Let’s be with one another as human beings and choose not to go on the offensive. We must choose to move forward, united as one group of people doing the best we can. We need each other.
Take Control and Find Hope
Anxiety is an alarm system that warns us of danger in our environment. And for most of 2020, the alarms have been ringing at full blast. Experiencing anxiety doesn’t mean that you’re broken or weak: It means that you feel disconnected, unsafe or out of control. Anxiety isn’t a one-and-done thing. For some of us, it will take a lifetime to change our relationship with anxiety.
But there are actions you can take today to find hope.
To learn more about how you can experience less stress in your life, check out my 80-page Quick Read, Redefining Anxiety. It will help you understand the biggest myths about anxiety—and what’s really true. Get a copy today!