Coping with Political Stress: Practical Tips for Election Season & Other Tense Times

Anna R.
July 3, 2024

The world has felt really heavy and tense lately, and don’t get me wrong, the world is always heavy, but I think lately, in particular, people have struggled to find joy or hope. It’s hard not to become debilitated by fear, anger, or sadness; it’s hard to keep moving. But it’s imperative that we don’t let those feelings stop us from continuing our lives. We cannot create the change we seek to see if we do not rest and give energy to our own well-being.

At the risk of sounding crude, I think things are only going to get more tense and difficult as we head into election season. I have been particularly struggling with what this means for the future of our democracy, now that things feel more extreme and divided politically. I find myself fearing for the future more than ever, and sometimes it can feel very overwhelming.

I’ve had many discussions with the community about how we honor our feelings around what’s happening while continuing to move forward. I’ve found some stuff that is working for me at the moment, and I felt inclined to share. I want to name that I am not a mental health expert or therapist of any sort, and I do suggest engaging one, as well as other mental health providers, if needed. I’m just another person trying to get through the darkness of life while still finding time for love, joy, and my own development.

Photo: Brittany Sowacke

Channel your feelings into something bigger
This feels like the most obvious, but I find it important. I think the most important thing you can do with feelings of anger and sadness is to channel them for good. And of course, that’s totally subjective to you. To me, that’s this website. Or if I’m in a really dark place, bad paintings that make other people laugh. The takeaway from this is to not let what you’re feeling overwhelm you or make you shut down. Anger is powerful; create something with it.

Schedule time for news and media.
It’s really easy to doomscroll or overdo it on the news. I have found that implementing a certain amount of time a day (it does flux depending on what I have going on during the week that needs my attention) to be very helpful. I also do not engage with any news or political content before bed. I need my already racing mind to be silent before I sleep. I do prioritize what’s happening in the world, but I’m also realistic about continuing to live my life and get done what I need to.

Set aside shame and guilt.
I think a lot of people, especially of younger generations, have become very focused on measuring their own actions (and activism) by how their peers are perceiving them. But the reality is that for some people, you’ll never be enough. You aren’t talking about this enough; you aren’t using the right terminology; you need to be louder. It’s impossible. And I think some people have allowed some rather rigid social media policing from a few extremists to be the norm by which they measure themselves and have let the shame and guilt of not living up to those standards prevent them from moving forward. I’m going to hold your hand when I say this: stop that shit. It’s not productive. Don’t let that shame and guilt stop you from moving forward with things.

Engage in authentic dialogues with loved ones.
I think it’s important to have conversations with the ones you love about what’s happening, but I think it’s also important to be real with how you’re feeling. Real change happens in vulnerability. If there are disagreements, hopefully, there is enough space and respect to keep communication open.

Find a movement you enjoy.
Literally, for the longest time, I thought that whole movement thing was a total lie. Turns out it’s not, well at least not for me. In a way, it’s like I’m totally just getting all the pent-up frustrated energy out of my body. I’ve found that personally, I really enjoy swimming. It’s low impact and really focuses on breath work. I find it nice to be in my body and focusing solely on my breathing and movement.

Stay in your fucking lane.
Another hot take, stay in your lane. Mind your business and keep it moving. Focus on what you can actually change given your resources and access and focus less on what others should or need to be doing.

Consume things that make you happy.
This is another obvious but important one. Connecting with things (whether it’s trashy reality TV or abstract German films), give time to the things that allow you to get out of the darkness for a little. It’s important to recharge your battery. 

Go outside and get grounded.
Not to sound like a boomer, but babe get off the internet and go outside. Like seriously go be one with nature or whatever.

Be real with yourself.
This is really hard for me to talk about, but I think it could be helpful for some people. In the past, I didn’t realize how depressed I was from constantly engaging with what was happening in the world. And I don’t just mean casual depression. Like I was really, really depressed, and it was impacting my ability to do things. Even worse, it was impacting my relationships. I was misplacing a lot of my energy and writing off what I was feeling as the normal doom and gloom of the world, but in reality, it was so much deeper than that. I had to really do some self-reflection and have had to have hard conversations.

Photo: Brittany Sowacke

I also want to take a moment before wrapping this up to just say that shaming how others react in situations or policing others isn’t the most effective way to progressive change. Attacking or diminishing the work of others doesn’t build allyship. Honestly, I used to be someone who would publicly call out someone in an instant; I wasn’t particularly friendly or sympathetic. Instead, I would rely on my own experiences and access to frame how people should be doing things. I was mean. I was unforgiving. I moved the goal post constantly. 

Admittedly, I think a lot of that was enabled by a bubble that I had created for myself of social media, focusing on the validation I received from likes and engagement for my “radical or progressive” ideologies. Somewhere in there, I forgot how to talk to people, validated exclusively by my echo chamber. I was only able to see the magnitude to which I had isolated myself once I left social media. I couldn’t keep up with the culture that I contributed to. And while I have regret for some of the ways I’ve acted, I’ve focused instead on using that regret and embarrassment to create change. I’ve focused on learning how to communicate better, to be less reactive, to shut up and listen, and instead to assume that best intentions are meant. 

Call it toxically positive; I call it protecting my energy so that I can use my energy in more practical ways that align with my skills and access to resources. I’ve had to drop a lot of my ego, to learn that more often than not, I’m not right, and try as I might, I don’t know everything. Except for about *American Life* being Madonna’s best album; that I am unequivocally 1000000% correct about.

And with that, I hope that you find a system that works for you. Things are tough right now. Life is complicated; just keep having real conversations with yourself.


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