Emotionally and Mentally Preparing for the 2020 Presidential Election

The negative effect that President Donald Trump has had on the mental health of countless Americans over the past four years has reared its ugly head in a myriad of ways. What’s been called Trump Anxiety Disorder by some, the President’s polarizing rhetoric has been shown to give people feelings of “a loss of control and helplessness, and fretting about what’s happening in the country and spending excessive time on social media.” 

For many Americans, these feelings of extreme distress and anxiety began on the evening of November 8, 2016, when Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. It was reported that National Suicide Prevention Lifeline saw a record number of calls in the hours following the news, particularly from members of the LGBTQ community

With the 2020 election just weeks away, a nation braces for what comes next in the race between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. As clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Chazin, Ph.D. succinctly puts it, “Whatever happens, whether it’s a contested election or one candidate [clearly] wins, people are going to be upset.” 

So how can people mentally and emotionally prepare for what the next few days, weeks, and, possibly, years will look like if they have anxiety associated with the current political landscape? 

Acknowledge and Accept Your Anxiety

Anxiety is a troubling thing for anyone who experiences it, whether it’s mild or debilitating, but it’s also your mind and body telling you something about how you’re feeling. “Anxiety is a really appropriate response to what’s going on,” explains therapist Avigail Schotz, LMFT. “Anxiety is speaking to us about the things we care about.” 

Chazin points out that it’s important to “recognize that these are stressful times we’re living in”  (i.e. the COVID-19 pandemic, societal upheaval and unrest) and by acknowledging that, you’ll allow yourself to acknowledge that you may have a strong reaction on November 3. 

Counselor TJ Walsh, MA, LPC, NCC, CCTP, says that it’s “important that we don’t underestimate the cognitive and emotional load that all of these stressors bring to our lives, or the impact that they will have on our ability to be productive, at least for the short term. 

“The reality is that difficulty concentrating, low motivation, and a state of distraction are to be expected,” Walsh says, adding, “You’re not alone in feeling this way. Adaptation will take time, and it’s important that you go easy on yourself.”

So, instead of trying to “get rid of” your anxiety or other mental health issues that may come up surrounding the election, Schotz says it’s better to get to know your anxiety, as well as know what to do in the face of it, and move into action around it. 

One way to do this, Walsh explains, is to manage moments of distress by identifying “key thoughts or physical sensations that tend to contribute to your cycle of distress and feelings of being overwhelmed.” In other words, he says, “pay attention to your body.” 

Manage Your Expectations (and Your Media Intake) 

Look, completely avoiding the news is all but impossible, let alone pretty irresponsible, but it’s not smart or healthy to consume too much of it, especially if it’s triggering for your anxiety. As Chazin puts it, you have to learn to “straddle the balance between not burying your head in the sand and not constantly checking social media.” 

Because the news can often heighten emotions in an already emotional time, doing things like constantly checking the news or doomscrolling on Twitter, as it’s known, “is really bad for anxiety,” Chazin notes. 

This is where mindfulness and awareness of our actions really comes into play. That’s because, as Walsh points out, we’re all but “hardwired to see the negative and be drawn to it because it can harm us physically…we can sense danger. It helps us survive.” 

This evolutionary reaction causes us to seek out questions we think need answering, “so we keep scrolling and scrolling [thinking it will be helpful,” Walsh says, “But we end up feeling worse afterwards.” 

In order to avoid the emotions that can often accompany “doomscrolling” or absorbing too much news, such as anxiety, depression, or isolation, Walsh suggests trying to limit the amount of time you spend with your phone, computer, and/or television. “Maybe you set aside 15 minutes to cruise social media, but when that time is up, you don’t do it again for the rest of the day.” 

Walsh acknowledges that this isn’t going to come easily or naturally for a lot of people, so in turn, try to “train yourself to see and do positive things” in place of consuming media. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that if your fears and anxieties arise from not being in the know, Chazin reminds you that if the news is big (for instance, who the next President is) you’re going to know about it, whether you’re online in that exact moment or not. 

Understand That Only You Can Control Your Current Circumstances 

The Presidential election this year is, unquestionably, a really big freakin’ deal. And with that, the feelings associated with it, as Schotz puts it, can feel just as big. These can be feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, fear and rage, among others. 

While you can do your part by voting and volunteering to work at the polls, when that part is over, the results and what happens afterwards is out of your hands. That can be a scary thought for many in and of itself, too. 

However, just because you feel powerless doesn’t mean you are powerless. Schotz says that in the moments when you feel overwhelmed, you can do things both big and small that give you back a sense of control and agency. This can be something as simple as deciding to go for a walk or listening to your favorite song. It’s also important to reach out for help when you need it, whether that’s calling a friend or your therapist. 

Setting and maintaining a routine during all of this can also be helpful when it comes to managing anxieties, Walsh says. “Find things that are not work or virus or politically-related that bring you joy.” He also points out how essential it is to maintain good sleeping, eating and exercising habits during all of this. 

You can also take these emotions and feelings related to the election and turn them into other healthy actions. While, no, you single-handedly cannot control the outcome of the election, you can do things like donating to causes you care about (whether that’s abortion rights or climate change) or getting involved with the issues and the politicians you care about on both state and local levels. 

As Chazin points out, it’s important to remind ourselves that, “Whatever happens on November 3, I can still make a difference.” 

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