I was texting furiously, checking Twitter and Facebook, listening to the television, wondering why I hadn't thought to get a snack before it all started. My heart rate was increasing, palms sweating as I read texts from friends and family about their rising levels of stress. It was five minutes into the last presidential debate and I hit the "mute" button on the television.
I turned my back on the television and walked away, leaving my phone on the couch with texts unanswered. I took a cool sip of water and picked out a snack, took a deep breath, and returned to un-mute the tv.
I've developed a personal method for watching the debates that works for me. Five minutes on, then mute for a couple minutes, then five more minutes on. With no commercial breaks or chances to catch our breath (or get a snack or use the bathroom), watching the debates can be intense. And that's before we even consider the content of the debates, or the level of hostility on the screen.
There are also many trigger issues up for discussion right now. It means that America is having some difficult conversations. Unfortunately, it does not mean that America is having them well, or with respect. This can also increase anxiety, especially when we can relate to the issues at hand on a personal level.
So, how can you manage stress while watching the debate tonight?
1. Plan breaks, if you think you might need them. This may mean setting an alarm for halfway through as a reminder to use the bathroom, take a deep breath, or temporarily mute the television. If you're watching with another person, you may plan to take a break from the debate together. Since we don't have mute buttons for other people, though, it may be a good idea to share the purpose of the break with your viewing partner beforehand.
2. Be aware of your anxiety level and potential trigger issues for yourself. Check in with yourself periodically. If you find that your anxiety is getting very high or you feel unable to take a deep breath due to anxiety, take a break and mute the television or turn it off. (I also recommend closing Facebook, Twitter, and generally stepping away from all electronics while you take a breather). Return only if and when your stress level becomes manageable.
3. Ground yourself when the stress rises. During your breaks, try taking three breaths, stretch, or play with your dog or cat. You can also remind yourself of something in your daily life outside of politics, such as what you might make for dinner tomorrow or your weekend plans. Make a list of potential brief grounding activities before the debate begins.
4. Check in with family and friends. Talk with those around you to share your feelings, or talk about something completely unrelated to the debates and politics.
5. Plan a self-care activity for after the debate. This may be a warm bath, a walk around the block, or watching a comedy on Netflix. Pick something that you find to be soothing before you get ready for bed.
It's good to be informed about politics and the future of our country. It's also important to take care of your health and wellness during a stressful election season.
This is not intended to replace medical or mental health advice, but rather to give some ideas for how to best manage stress while watching the debate tonight. Please contact your physician or therapist for further help, if needed.
Be well, America!