Probably more than ever before, this year's presidential election stirs up strong emotions in most people. While the primaries already turned out to be a terrifying display of insults, low blows and extreme perspectives, once the candidates were crowned, the emotional dust didn't settle. We are daily inundated with breaking news on how far two people can go to slander and discredit each other, all in the attempt to look more electable than their opponent. Can you imagine being in a job interview and spending most of your time bashing the other applicants, rather than pointing out your expertise and why you would be the best person for the company? Chances are you would stay unemployed, because nobody wants to hire such a negative person.
No matter which candidate you support, just a few weeks before the election, you are probably worried and concerned about what will happen if your man or woman doesn't win. The potential consequences for the economy, the environment, the relationship with the rest of the world and so on may cause you sleepless nights. And as your anxiety is mounting, you feel increasingly powerless and out of control.
So what can you do - besides casting your vote?
• Start with a healthy dose of self-compassion. It is completely normal that you feel anxious and stressed during this time. Rather than attacking yourself for your emotions, accept that your mind, in particular your subconscious mind, got triggered by the aggressiveness, irrationality and negativity that has been exhibited on the political stage. Self-compassion stops an energy-draining cycle, where your mind has to protect itself from your own judgment and irritation.
• Reduce your news binge. We are all bombarded with fear and anxiety inducing messages - from the candidates, who are aiming to generate controversy and achieve attention, and from the media outlets, who are counting on the fear to garner ratings and fill airtime and internet space. And you probably noticed, that the more anxious you become, the more compelled you feel to stay up-to-the- minute informed about any unfolding developments. However, it is a misconception that more input will make you feel calmer and more in control. Not only does information-overload create overwhelm, confusion and henceforth anxiety (Int J Psychol. 2013;48(3):422-36. The dark side of technologies: technostress among users of information and communication technologies. Salanova M1, Llorens S, Cifre E.). Research has also shown that exposure to negative news increases the tendency to worry and catastrophize. (Br J Psychol. 1997 Feb;88 ( Pt 1):85-91. The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: the catastrophizing of personal worries. Johnston WM1, Davey GC.) So give your mind a break and reduce your screen time by at least 50%.
• Avoid other people's negativity. Have you noticed that spending time with certain individuals makes your anxiety worse? This can be your uncle Bob, who exudes anger and resentment, whenever he goes on one of his passionate rants about the state of the nation. Or your jittery friend Mary, who predicts that the sky will surely fall, if her candidate should lose. Scientists found evidence that emotions can spread like a virus amongst individuals. (Behav Brain Res. 2010 Mar 17;208(1):282-5. Together they stand: A life-threatening event reduces individual behavioral variability in groups of voles. Izhar R1, Eilam D. Business Journal October 27, 2015Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement, Dan Witters and Sangeeta Agrawal). One of the explanations on why fear and anxiety can ripple through a group is, that a scared person releases pheromones, which others can subconsciously detect. This olfactory signal induces a protective fear and anxiety response, which can then stimulates the further release of 'fear chemicals' on their skins and round and round it goes. (Mujica-Parodi LR, Strey HH, Frederick B, Savoy R, Cox D, Botanov Y, et al. (2009) Chemosensory Cues to Conspecific Emotional Stress Activate Amygdala in Humans). Thus, even though it may appear reassuring to huddle up with those, who are on pins and needles as you are, limiting your interactions with people that are run by their negative emotions, can help you to stay more grounded and centered.
• Take action. To paraphrase Yogi Bhajan, one of my great teachers, "When the pressure is on take the first step, No matter how small it is, and you will feel the pressure immediately start to ease up." The notion of being powerless is one of the strongest anxiety triggers; and the longer you stay paralyzed by your emotions, the worse they become. When you are taking action, you are taking your power back. This first step could be to start shifting your focus back inside of yourself. You could jot down your thoughts, concerns and worries, so that they are no longer just stuck in your head. Learn how to meditate or listen to guided imagery, because the anxiety reducing effects of regular mediation are well established (J Altern Complement Med. 2014 May; 20(5):330-41. Effects of the transcendental meditation technique on trait anxiety: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Orme-Johnson DW1, Barnes VA.). Or you can get involved with uplifting initiatives such as Sister Jenna's Meditate the Vote (http://meditatethevote.com/) or David Nicol's The Gaiafield Project (http://gaiafield.net/), which are both aiming to approach these interesting times from a place of positivity, clarity and inner peace.
• Stick to your values. Reflect on the core values that make you a decent human being and are the foundation of a functioning society. Values such as truth and honesty, respect for all beings, caring and compassion, peace and justice, tolerance and love. And then choose to defend, live and share those values with the people around you. As the potential leaders of our country in their efforts to win, succumb to the temptation to replace reasoning with righteousness and courtesy with callousness, we need to remind ourselves that certain aspects about life are more important and valuable to focus on, than who will sit in the White House for the next four years.
Any of the steps above can help you to free your mind from anxiety-triggering clutter, so that you can evaluate your concerns and your options from a calmer and more grounded place. After all, anxiety is a terrible observer and an even worse-decision maker. Or to quote Robert Louis Stevenson: Quite minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertloui135068.html?src=t_quiet)