Watchdog Wellness: Election Night Mental Health Survival Guide

Photo Credit: Kike Vega

A lot hangs in the balance of the 2020 election, so it is understandably stressful for many people. Here are some tips to help to take care of your mental health on Election Day. 

1. Prepare the Day Before

Try to limit the number of things you have to do and stress about on Election Day. Having meals prepared or planned out beforehand is a small thing that can go a long way towards feeling more comfortable. In addition, try to have a tidy space by cleaning up before election day to help with making yourself feel organized. Lastly, work towards getting a good night sleep because you will then be more well rested during Election Day. Bellevue College’s psychology professor, Maggie Seibel brings up the point that “when we’re well-rested, full with nutritious food, well-hydrated and de-stressed, it’s easier to catch ourselves getting off track with destructive experience cycles.” 

2. Take Breaks Periodically on Election Day

It can be so easy to constantly check your phone every second to hear the newest update, but it’s important for your own sanity to unplug from the stressful news. Although FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a rough feeling to cope with, unplugging from the news can help with self-reflection and seeing how you’re feeling. Your brain can only take in so much information at one time and taking breaks will help with giving your brain time to process. During a break, you could go for a walk, make a meal or even do some yoga.

3. Reflect on Your Emotions

People can sometimes ignore big emotions to avoid having to process them and it’s really important to process those emotions. Seibel wants people to remember the three-part emotion cycle to help when reflecting on your emotions.

Emotions are a powerful component of a three-part cycle that defines how we view a situation. First comes a thought. That thought creates an emotion, and the emotion creates a behavior. The behavior then creates more thoughts, and the cycle is spinning again. Just think back to a time when you fell in love (puppies, kittens and cars qualify here, not just other humans).

Thoughts about that object created powerful emotions within us, which then led to behaviors, and that led to more thoughts. For example, initially, she was just visiting a friend who got a new puppy, but it was so adorable and affectionate, she wanted to have a puppy of her own, but it’s just not practical. She doesn’t have time to focus on a puppy, or train him, or walk him. She decided to wait until the time is right to get one of her own. In the meantime, she would be content to visit her friend often, and play with her dog.

This scenario turned out well, but there’s also that rude driver who cuts us off on the freeway. A typical response might be to flip them off, followed by a few choice words that we couldn’t say with kids in the car.

That’s the thought-emotion-behavior chain of an undisciplined mind. For most people, the thought-emotion-behavior chain of events operates with no one at the controls. Greater self-awareness gives us the ability to break that chain, which gives us greater opportunity to try out different thoughts or emotions to see how that might create a new behavior, which results in a new reality.

Some ways that you can reflect on your emotions is by calling a friend or writing in a journal. If you are struggling with negative thoughts and emotions, take the time to think of a positive thought. When you think of a positive thought, your emotions and behavior will begin to change.

4. Turn Off the Election Coverage if it Gets too Overwhelming

You may get too overwhelmed with the election coverage and that is completely fine. The first step is to completely unplug by turning off any election coverage updates on your phone, television, and anywhere else you are getting election news. The next step is to assess where you are mentally at. If you feel that you are having a panic or anxiety attack, start off by focusing on one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, one thing you can see and one thing you can hear. Then, look for five items that have gray on them, four items that have black, three items that have red, two items that have blue and one yellow item (insert colors that work best for you). Finally, complete 4-7-8 breathing meaning that you breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale for eight seconds. This helps to relieve stress and calm a person down. Once you have returned to your regular state of mind, complete an activity that helps your mental health. This could be something such as coloring, calling or texting with a friend, watching a comforting television show such as Gilmore Girls or Schitt’s Creek, lighting a candle with a soothing scent, listening to upbeat music, journaling or taking a relaxing bath.

Election Day may get rough for you mentally, but the most important thing to remember is that you can control how you respond to everything that comes your way. Work towards responding in a way that positively affects your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.