Given the volatile and angry nature of this current national election, how do we manage our anxiety? Regardless of our political affiliations, this particular election cycle has involved unprecedented negativity and sensationalism, driven in part by people’s dissatisfaction with governmental gridlock, concerns about our economy, health care, foreign affairs, and racial issues, to name only a few.
We also live in a digital age where 24-hour access to late-breaking news (some being erroneous) is possible. This promotes the belief that we should be checking our cell phones on a frequent and consistent basis, a habit which, when engaged in close to bedtime or in the middle of the night, wreaks havoc with our sleep. This in turn can lead to crankiness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, excessive appetite, and an impaired immune system. It’s a vicious cycle.
At least the point has been driven home in this particular election, which has been so divisive and and become a point of contention among even (especially) beloved family members and friends, that every vote counts. It was heartening to read in the paper the day before Election Day about the record-breaking number of early voters, peoples’ patience with each other and lines that sometimes exceeded four hours, and the cars driving by whose drivers honked and waved in encouragement. Still, on the whole people seem to be focusing on what we don’t want rather than what we desire and hope for.
You may be concerned that nothing will really change, regardless of the election results. This feeling is natural. It is important to us as individuals and as a nation to feel as if we have some level of influence and autonomy on an on-going basis. So, even though we feel (and are) making a major contribution by casting our votes for president and other national officials, how do we deal with the day-to-day sense of inability to “do” anything to effect meaningful change?
During the months of political campaigning, on Election Day, and in the following days, the following tips may help:
Live and let live. By now, you probably know who among your family, friends, and coworkers share your political views, and who differs with you. No need to try and convince Uncle Fred that “your” candidate is the best one for the job, if Fred has always championed a different candidate. Pick your battles wisely and know which ones to avoid.
Take a media break. In the months approaching Election Day, you could check the polling results daily, or even hourly. The news media’s job is to keep us informed, but each venue has its specific leaning, and this can be reflected in the news articles being published by that entity. It’s not all that difficult to slant the findings in a desired direction.
In addition, you’ve most likely noticed by now that you probably didn’t need to hear the minute-by-minute “scoops” about the various candidates in order to make an informed decision about your vote. Looking back in a year or so, it may become clear that reading about the issues on a weekly basis would have been sufficient.
Yes, on actual Election Day, of course it’s important and exciting to learn the election results as soon as possible. However, if this interferes with your getting a good night of sleep, remember that the world will not end if you go to bed before the final ballots are counted. The winners will be broadcast from every major news outlet the following day, and you will have plenty of time to digest the results.
Focus on what you stand for. Consider what is most important to you.
Do you value kindness? Compassion? Patience? Courage? You can express these by smiling at the check-out clerk at the grocery store and asking them about their day. Take a few minutes to listen to and empathize with a coworker’s struggle and perhaps offer helpful suggestions. Volunteer to read aloud to children at your local library. Persevere with your commitment to healthy nutrition and regular exercise. Speak up at your local community council meeting about issues that are of interest to you
The truth is that we vote every day, with our attitudes, words, and actions. In addition to casting our ballots, the manner in which we live affects our family, workplace, and community in potentially powerful ways.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” (Lao Tzu)
You never know who you might influence in a significant and long-lasting way. You have this opportunity every day. People are watching, and they notice what you do and do not do. Stay alert, and live your values. Cast your vote wisely.