Your Election Anxiety Is Valid: Here's How You Can Plan For What Happens Next
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
For many people, there's a lot of anxiety tied to the election ahead of us.
Anxiety can often be linked to catastrophizing: You're constantly assuming the worst is going to happen, when the worst-case scenario really isn’t that likely or likely wouldn't be as bad as you're envisioning. Anxiety can also be about control: When you're faced with the reality that you can't control what's happening around you, fear gets triggered—and is often met with advice about "learning to be OK with uncertainty."
But when it comes to elections, it's important to acknowledge that many people's lives may be actually, directly affected by the results. People's access to necessary health care, their ability to protect themselves and their communities from violence and racism, their exposure to coastal destruction and food insecurity due to insufficient climate action—all of it and more can be dramatically affected by which leaders are elected on the local and federal level.
People's lives really can be changed by elections. It's not "just in their heads," and it's not something that will be made OK by simply paying less attention to it or "being OK with uncertainty."
All to say: Your election anxiety is valid.
So when faced with the potential for real harm, what can you do?
1. Preemptively care for your mental health.
First and foremost, your mental health should be a top priority. Remember that being in a state of panic or allowing your anxiety to eat away at your overall well-being will only make it harder for you to take the actions you need to take to respond to what's happening around you.
"There are things you can do to take care of your mental health so as to somewhat minimize the emotional pain and trauma that the results may cause you," therapist Alyssa "Lia" Mancao, LCSW, suggests. "You want to be preemptive with the ways in which you are taking care of yourselves."
Mancao stresses the importance of tending to your sleep and nutrition as best you can during this time. Make sure you're eating, resting, and tuning in to your physical and emotional needs.
"Check in with yourself," she says. "Do you need to unplug for a moment? Do you need to cry? Do you need to tap into a support system or network of people who are dealing with what you are dealing with to help you feel less isolated?"
2. Make an action plan.
Create an action plan to help you stay safe and protect your community, Mancao recommends.
Depending on what types of issues you're facing, your action plan might involve researching what organizations exist that might be able to offer you legal assistance, physical resources, or other types of support. Following relevant organizations and resources on social media or subscribing to their newsletters can help you stay up-to-date on information that's relevant to you.
It might also look like getting more involved with local organizing and activism around the issues you care about. Are there advocacy groups in your area working on impactful local actions around climate change, immigration, diversity and equity, health care, or other issues pertinent to you? Find a group that's aligned with your values and taking action. Reach out and get involved. (Here's how to make an eco-action plan with your family, for example.)
"Being able to connect with a support group, faith-based organization (if this is what is helpful to you), as well as advocacy groups can be beneficial for your mental health during these times," Mancao adds.
3. Allow yourself to disconnect while waiting for more information.
"Since the election is not going to be decided on Tuesday, I'm not planning to stay up all night for a result and instead am making sure to get plenty of rest," Xochitl Oseguera, vice president of MamásConPoder, tells mbg. "Stay sane by keeping your life as usual."
Planning ahead can only take you so far—at some point, we do just need to wait and see what happens. When you have more information about what's going to happen, you'll be able to take the actions you need to take according to your aforementioned plan. Until then, give yourself permission to periodically unplug, get outside, and find bits of peace and solace.
Even in the face of real adversity, cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., tells mbg that temporary distractions (emphasis on the word temporary) can help us manage our emotions and keep destructive worry at bay.
"You don't have to feel guilt or shame when you think anxious thoughts," Leaf tells mbg. "In fact, you need to allow room for negative thoughts in your life, as they can help prepare you for worst-case scenarios, deal with the past, and keep you grounded. However, these negative thoughts need to be balanced with the good so that they don't become the dominant structure in your brain."
(Here are a few more practical ways to manage worry from Leaf.)
4. Keep some perspective.
Elections and leadership can have a huge impact on our lives and the issues we care about. At the same time, they're not the be-all and end-all of what happens to us. Community action, mutual aid, local organizing, and other systems exist that give people the power to keep themselves safe, support their communities, push leaders to take pro-social actions, and create the larger changes we need to see in our country and in the world.
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