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Is That Nail-Biter of an Election Making You Anxious?

The election isn’t over. If you are feeling anxious, here are some things that may help.

Today and the days ahead may be filled with overwhelming chatter, and we may need to deal with uncertainty, controversy and arguments in the media and even among the people we know, said Dr.  William Elder, clinical professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine. 

According to the American Psychological Association, 68% of Americans believe this election is a significant source of stress in their life, which is higher than the 52% who reported the same thing in 2016. 

The election, along with many additional stressors that our nation is navigating means we are seeing higher levels of mental health struggles in 2020, compared with previous years, said Holly Oxhandler, Ph.D., associate dean for research and faculty development in the Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. 

How should we cope with this stress? Identify, be with, and feel the emotions that rise from this stressful event, rather than bypass, numb, push through, or ignore them, Oxhandler said.

“By recognizing the spectrum of complex emotions within us tied to this national event, as well as holding space for others’ emotions, we are better able to discern how to move forward with whatever the next right step is for each of us,” she said.

“Preparing for information overload and strong emotions is a great idea,” Elder said in an email Wednesday.

Mindfulness can be a key, helpful practice when coping with stress or grief. 

“Mindfulness is simply a mental state achieved by focusing on the present while calmly acknowledging and accepting all thoughts and feelings. That may be easier said than done with so much coming at us,” Elder explained.

Right now would be a good time to practice gratitude meditations, Elder said. It’s simply an opportunity, through breathing, posture, sound and intentionality to focus on those things you are grateful for.  

“During the meditation, you’ll probably have negative thoughts intrude. Just notice them and return to focusing your mind,” Elder wrote. He says in just 8-10 minutes you will find yourself less stressed and more relaxed. He also suggests prayer — “a great example of how some of us can direct our mind and find calm and inner peace. ”

Here are easy meditations you can try right now at home. These apps provide practices that may help your mental health and wellbeing.

Research supports the recommendation to practice mindfulness and gratefulness for positive effects on our mental health. 

“To the best of our ability, we must be able to sit with the difficult — our own and others’ — without brushing past it with ‘I’m thankful that at least … ’” said Oxhandler.

Oxhandler said this form of bypassing is very different from the regular, routine practice of gratitude that’s grounded in recognizing what we do have and are feeling thankful for those gifts.

When you feel anxious or are worrying, Oxhandler suggests practices that can help us be with our emotions and the present moment. These practices include deep breathing into our bellies for a count of four and slowly breathing out through our mouths as if we’re blowing on hot soup for a count of 6. She also recommends connecting with our five senses by asking ourselves, “What do I see in front of me? What do I taste? What’s something I can touch and feel? What sounds do I hear? What scents do I smell?”

Walking outside can also soothe your mind.  

If you find your experience disturbed by recurrent negative thought, Elder suggests trying the “seeing red” exercise. “For 15 minutes, focus your mind on identifying everything around you that is red. At the same time, try to hold the list of reds in your mind.  You may write them down if you wish. Allow yourself to be amazed by all that is red. These simple tasks of seeing, remembering and writing will occupy your mind.”

Oxhandler highly recommends creating a self-care plan for the days and weeks ahead. 

“This is especially important as we look to finishing 2020 well and as we look to 2021 with hope,” she said. 

If you are feeling a change in your mood and need additional mental health support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Crisis Text Line.

Written by RA News staff.


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