The Stress is Real: Tips for Coping with Election Uncertainty

You’ve mailed-in, dropped-off, waited in line, or are planning to brave the polls on November 3rd.

You’ve registered voters, reminded voters, phone banked, text banked, written postcards, or installed placards in your yard, on social media, and on your clothing.

With physically longer lines due to pandemic distancing guidelines, Cuyahoga County Board of Elections has installed canopies to keep voters protected from the elements.

You’ve watched or not-watched debates, watched or not-watched morning-after clips, or relied on Saturday Night Live for a synopsis. 

What comes next? 

Waiting. 

Gone are the days of a presidential election being called in real-time. 

We need to prepare for an inconclusive,  possibly contested outcome. Hours. Days. Weeks. Experts say it will be decided by Inauguration Day; otherwise neither candidate will become president. That is the only known.

What can you do to manage the uncertainty?

Make A Plan. Decide in advance how closely you want to watch the news on Election Day/Week. Choose one source. Think about how the news disrupts your day, and choose pockets of time where you can expose yourself to coverage without derailing your work/home/self balance. 

Make Another Plan. Think in advance about how you can protect work/home/self balance in terms of the things that you and your body need to feel okay. Protect these elements of self-care.

  • Sleep
  • Nourishment
  • Physical Activity
  • Self/Companionship Balance
  • Distractions

Sleep. Know yourself. How many hours does your body need to have a decent day? If needed, add a pre-sleep routine to help soothe your heart rate and quiet your brain: reading,  a warm drink, music, yoga, a meditation app. In consultation with your doctor, consider a supplement like Melatonin to keep your sleep pattern protected. Sleep deprivation is nobody’s friend. Do not invite it into your life right now.

Nourishment. Again, know what you usually do when stressed. Skip meals? Eat too much? Over-indulge in junk? Plan ahead. Plan as you would if someone in your home were having a medical procedure. Help your future self out by planning ahead. Favorite meals. Comfort foods. Healthy snacks. A limited stash of junk food indulgences. 

If you are a meal skipper, put meals on your calendar/to do list/reminders. If you tend to overeat, give yourself a touch of structure and keep occupied (see below) so you can avoid, as best you can, an eating behavior that only makes. you feel worse.

If you have ever had an eating disorder, know that stress can be a trigger. Be in touch with a therapist/helper and your loved ones to help manage any possible or actual setbacks. Be forgiving with yourself for your humanness and also give yourself scaffolding to get through uncertain times.

Physical Activity. We know, clinically, that walking is one of the most helpful things to help re-regulate the human body and mind during times of stress. It releases the “good” brain chemicals to offset the cortisol that is released when the fight/flight/freeze mechanism is alarmed.

Exercise, in any form and regardless of ability level, sets off a cascade of good brain chemicals to re-stabilize your brain, allowing you better access to the pleasure & relationship centers of your brain, as well as allowing you to access the “executive functions” of concentration, decision making, memory, time management, etc. 

Assume that uncertainty is going to trigger anxiety. Plan physical activity that helps you through the week. Notice you cannot concentrate? Get some exercise — any exercise.  Bonus! Physical activity also helps with your “sleep debt,” so your body will want/need restorative sleep — and it helps burn off some of the indulgences common to comfort foods.

Self/Companionship Balance. Introvert? Extrovert? In-between? Quiet-seeking? Stimulation-needing? Writing? Shouting? Commiserating. Know yourself. Create a plan for balance. Block-out time for what you need. This is a stressful time. So if you need 20 minutes alone, make it part of your calendar/routine. Cuddle or play time with a pet should also be protected. If you need connection, plan time with others — socially distant walks, virtual gatherings, text chats. 

Within this context, if you have relied on a professional for support during other stressful times, it may be time to ask for an appointment just to have back-up to feel what you need to feel.  

Distractions. Keeping busy is a way of keeping self-regulated, which is the goal during uncertain times. Make art. Get out into nature. Begin a home repair project. Search the internet for the one whatever-it-is that you’ve been meaning to find/learn about/get. Re-organize a closet. Do some non-political volunteer work. All of these things fill time, add pleasure, and trigger the release of positive brain chemicals. And they do NOT amplify worry.

Manage Other Uncertainties. By tending to the above, you protect yourself from developing a snowball of uncertainty that seems colossal in size. You control what you can control — and it cultivates resilience to manage what you cannot control. 

Jennifer & John Ives voted on a sunny autumn day here in Cleveland.

In that regard, if — for some reason — you haven’t voted yet, take that variable out of the mix. Get yourself to your Board of Elections before Election Day. Think of it as good citizenship; early voting helps reduce the number of people at the polls on a pandemic Election Day. Think of it as wise logistics; early voting helps the Board of Elections tally results more swiftly. Think of it as an act of resistance; the more of us who vote early, the less vulnerable our society is to voter intimidation. 

Lift each other up. Help pass the time in kind and fun ways. It’s been a long haul — and it’s not over yet. But in time we will have clarity. And we will manage — individually and together —what comes next.

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