November 6, 2018
For weeks, perhaps months, the tension has been building. And now, midterm elections are upon us. We go to the polls, and we hold our breath. Whatever the outcome, there will be many who experience added stress and anxiety. With the current political climate, the importance of midterms has been underscored again and again in the media. There is a palpable anxiety in the air.
And yet, as is always the case when confronting things over which we have limited control, self-care becomes increasingly important. Especially for those dealing with mental health conditions such as mood disorders or substance abuse, but even for those going through normal life transitions such as family changes, illness, or financial stress. With the prevalence of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, we as mental health providers have seen more personal impact from political issues than ever before.
So first, take a breath. Take a minute, as you’re reading this, to use a simple technique we use routinely in therapy spaces: belly breathing. Put one hand on your abdomen below your belly button, and feel your tummy rising and falling with each breath. Perhaps you’re noticing, for the first time, that your belly fills with air when you breathe. Now, push your belly out on the inhale, letting it fill up like a balloon. On the exhale, gently press down, letting your belly empty of air. Once you’ve mastered this, inhale for 4 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds. Repeat this technique for 5-10 breaths. This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s an anti-anxiety tool that can be used at any time, and the more you practice it, the more it will soothe your nervous system. Try it next time you get anxious about the state of the world. Or stuck in traffic. Or just overwhelmed by life.
Our bodies are wise, and when we return to caring for them in times of stress, our minds are more likely to come to productive solutions, to work for us instead of against us. We can manage our emotions better when our bodies are nourished with healthy food, regular exercise, and good sleep. So try a brisk walk for about 20 minutes. Eat a balanced, healthy meal with protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Hydrate your body
with lots of water, which helps dilute stress hormones in the body. Take a warm bath. Meditate, pray, or play music that makes you feel good.
Furthermore, we need our loved ones and our community to insulate us in times of stress. Reach out by phone or in-person, not just over text and social media, to someone who shares your views, and with whom you can exchange emotional support. Spend time with your pets. Watch the ballot returns with friends or family, not alone. Schedule a therapy session for this week or next, to debrief regarding your thoughts and feelings. If they get really overwhelming, write them down, then put them away until you can discuss them with a professional counselor.
However you choose to cope, remember that you are not alone. We’re in this together.