If you feel election stress building up like the rising buzz of a swarm of bees, you aren’t alone! There are ways to protect yourself from getting stung by bees. In the same spirit, here are three ways to repel election stress and keep yourself and your relationships safe.
Election Stress Repellent Strategies:
- Understand the Landscape
- Limit the Exposure
- Respectful Disengagement
- Manage Baseline Stress
Election Stress Repellent Strategy #1: Understand the Landscape
Presidential elections are inherently stressful for three reasons:
- Intentionally upending our government, not knowing who will win, creates uncertainty, which triggers stress.
- Election messages from the candidates, parties, and the media purposefully evoke strong emotional responses with graphics, soundtracks, and language that predicts dire outcomes if the wrong person is elected. This type of messaging comes from all sides and is designed to promote or suppress voting through fear-based persuasion, which triggers stress.
- Interactions with friends, family, people on social media, etc, feel personal – like being attacked, which triggers a stress response.
Unrelenting exposure to these triggers can lead to symptoms like sleeplessness, anxiety, situational depression, digestion distress, and headaches, which can be overwhelming. Of course, election stress doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it adds to your baseline stress. If your baseline stress level is already high, election stress can push you into crisis mode. This phenomenon, often called Election Stress Disorder, can impede our ability to perform daily tasks and work.
Election Stress Repellent Strategy #2: Limit the Exposure
Like beekeepers who wear protective gear, the first line of defense is to create a barrier of protection from the triggers of election stress. Consciously reducing the time spent on social media or watching news channels acts as a barrier against stress. Selective engagement with media can significantly decrease the number of ‘stings’ you experience. Here are four ways to limit engagement:
- Sip, don’t gulp: Your brain does not need your permission to engage with media. You might think the news station is just playing in the background, but your brain is paying attention. Constant exposure to worrisome news increases your stress, whether or not you are actively watching or listening. Choose one or two trusted sources of information and spend small amounts of time engaging with them daily. If there is breaking news, you’ll be made aware. Pick twice daily to engage with election messages and media, and limit those encounters to 20 minutes or less.
- Read, don’t view: Not all messages are equal; video pulls your brain deeper. When we watch people on a screen, our neurons mirror the behavior and emotions of those people. If they are angry, our brains are also activated to prepare to be angry. We aren’t just passively receiving all those messages and images; our brains are figuring out how to become part of them. While we might read a story we disagree with, our brains aren’t actively trying to jump into the story. Avoiding television news and political ads, social media videos, and other election video content and choosing to read a newspaper or online print content instead limits the mirror neuron stress triggering.
- Delete, don’t read: Political fundraising emails and text often use the same fear-based exaggerated language found in ads and video messages. You don’t have to read them. The point is to solicit money. Donate if you feel called to donate, but you don’t have to engage with the message. Skip to the link, or even better yet, delete it unread.
- Sleep, don’t scroll: Social media content is designed to keep you engaged, beware of the doom scroll! One emotional triggering post leads to another, and another. With each swipe your stress level surges. This is especially problematic as the day ends, and you are trying to get to sleep. Disengage from social media – and all media and messages – at least an hour before bedtime to allow your brain to settle for sleep.
Election Stress Repellent Strategy #3: Respectful Disengagement
If you see a bee, you can always back away to safety. Respectfully disengaging from politically charged conversations can provide emotional safety without escalating the interaction. The next time your brother-in-law launches into dissecting the impact of his candidate’s stance on immigration, try one of these tips to disengage:
Disengage the topic: Make a respectful request to change the subject, such as, “Jim, this topic is really stressing me out (making me sad, making me uncomfortable). Could we please talk about something else?” Make sure your tone is calm, and a smile helps too. This often works because you haven’t said Jim is wrong or argued the point; you asked for a different topic. What happens if Jim says No? See the next tip.
- Exit, but not in a huff: It is not rude to politely leave a political conversation that is upsetting or causing stress if your request to change the topic is not honored. A simple “Excuse me” with a smile as you stand and exit a group conversation is respectful. You could also say, “OK, it seems you still want to discuss this. I will go into the next room while you finish.” For a one-on-one conversation, “It’s been nice to see you; I’m going to get going now.” accompanied by a smile, can do the trick. Making your exit before you get angry helps, too. Not only does it save you stress, but it also allows you to leave without being accused of “storming off.”
- Reframe the interaction: Conversations from different sides of the political spectrum can feel very personal. We often feel judged when someone disagrees with our beliefs; too often, we can’t understand why the other person chooses to believe what we find wrong. In the end, however, it really isn’t about us. Your brother-in-law probably isn’t expressing his opinion to make you feel bad; they likely want you to understand their beliefs. These three questions are beneficial in reframing challenging interactions by short-circuiting the emotional reaction to them.
- What if this is the best they can do right now? We all have our own standards and expectations. Still, it’s vital to remember that what we consider ‘the best’ may not align with someone else’s. When we encounter choices that seem off to us, asking, “What if this is the best they can do?” can shift our mindset. Accepting that others are doing what they can based on their abilities and circumstances and understanding that moment can help us let go of frustration and minimize stress.
- What if there is something about this I don’t understand? Our perspective is limited to our experiences, and it’s easy to forget that we don’t know everything about someone else’s situation. By asking, “What if there’s something I don’t know?” we open ourselves up to the possibility that unseen factors influence others’ decisions. This recognition can curb our impulse to judge and allow us to approach situations with empathy instead of stress.
- What if it isn’t about me? It’s human nature to interpret others’ actions through the lens of how they affect us personally. Understanding that other people’s choices may be about their own needs, challenges, or simply a reflection of where they are in life allows us to detach and not take things personally. This can significantly reduce the stress we feel and improve our interactions.
By incorporating these questions into your thought process, you can create a buffer between yourself and the stress-inducing actions of others. It’s about giving others—and ourselves—the grace to be human, the space to grow, and the compassion to understand. Listening with more compassion and curiosity may lead to discovering common ground and less stress.
Election Stress Repellent Strategy #4: Manage Baseline Stress
The trouble with baseline stress is that it operates under the radar. It’s the kind of stress that doesn’t knock you over all at once; instead, it builds slowly, quietly compromising your ability to think clearly and creatively. It can show up physically, too, in ways we might not immediately attribute to stress, like disrupted sleep or a nagging headache.
Here are three ways to deal with a high baseline level of stress:
- Take Notice: Recognizing and naming the feeling for what it is is crucial. I developed the Baseline Stress Level Quiz to be a helpful tool to gauge where you stand. It can tell you if your stress is just a whisper or if it’s shouting for attention.
- Stop The Reaction: Consider your daily intake of stressors. What are you allowing into your mental space? Is the non-stop news cycle or social media frenzy contributing to your feelings? It might be time to curtail the constant connection and permit yourself to step back.
- Actively Reduce Your Baseline: Take proactive steps towards stress reduction. This could be as simple as incorporating a daily walk, staying hydrated, or prioritizing good sleep habits. These actions can lower the physical effects of stress, clearing the way for a healthier mindset.
Take the Baseline Stress Level Quiz and get access to resources to lower your baseline!”
The buzzing of election stressors in your environment only grows louder as the election grows closer. Take active steps to repel the impact of this year’s elections and protect your sanity and relationships.