2020 has been marked by an ongoing global pandemic and racial trauma. To top it all off, we are in the midst of a historical presidential election season. Navigating these dynamics can be challenging and may negatively impact our mental health. Recognizing this challenge, we offer the following election season mental health and wellness tips.
Limit and Diversify Media Consumption
According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), 4 of 10 adults (38 %) cite political and cultural discussions on social media as a source of stress. Additionally, adults who use social media (54%) are more likely than adults who do not (45%) to report that the election is a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of stress.
To reduce election related stress, take a break from social media and the news cycle. You may consider setting a timer for social media apps or scheduling times to read or watch the news.Watching the news on TV may be less stressful than reading the news online or on social media as there are no public comments on TV. The APA study found that public comments can exacerbate election stress.
If you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed by the news or social media, try a mindful breathing exercise or grounding exercise. You may also enjoy a walk outdoors, especially during the beautiful Fall season.
Getting involved in election related service activities is a great way to boost your mental health. Perhaps you may like to volunteer at your local polling place or phone bank for your favorite candidate. According to a study published in The Journal of Happiness Studies, volunteering helps boost mental health by providing opportunities for social connection and skill development and cultivating a sense of purpose.
Many election related service activities have been adapted for COVID-19. For example, phone banking can be done from home paired with a Zoom meeting to connect support staff and other phone bankers. No matter what type of activity you choose, be sure to follow CDC guidelines.
Feeling short on time? Donating to your favorite candidates campaign may also boost your mental health. Spending money on others is associated with higher levels of happiness than spending money on yourself (Dunn et al., 2008). We understand that 2020 has been a difficult year for many financially. Give as you are able.
Dealing with Gaslighting
Our current president gas lights Americans and African American by tacitly condoning white supremacy with his reluctance to condemn it and encouraging Americans not to fear a virus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.
You may also feel gaslighted by claims and counterclaims present in presidential and local campaign messages. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made national news by stating that black people could safely travel anywhere in South Carolina as long as they are “conservative.” This statement is gaslighting to African Americans that have experienced heightened racial trauma in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. His statement dismisses the heightened sense of awareness that African Americans must live with daily to survive systemic racism and the trauma we experience when innocent Black Americans are unjustly murdered.
Here are a few tips for dealing with gaslighting during the election season:
1. Recognize political messages as gaslighting. Recognizing and naming toxic political messages as gaslighting is the first step in dealing with it. If a political message makes you distrust your feelings, feel “crazy” or too sensitive, then the message is gaslighting. If the message involves denial, contradictions or lies that can be dispelled by facts, it is gaslighting.
2. Keep a journal. Journaling is a great way to document your feelings and to release them.
3. Connect with your support system. Talking about how the election and political messages are impacting you is a great way to legitimize your feelings and to release them.
4. Practice self care. All of tips mentioned in this article to include limiting and diversifying media consumption, grounding exercises, mindful breathing exercises and walks can help you cope with political gaslighting.
Above all, we encourage you to vote! Our ancestors sacrificed for us to have the right to vote and this election is likely the most important election of our lifetimes. Use the power of your vote to elect candidates that reduce stress and gaslighting.
If you are having a hard time getting excited about the candidates, consider the following metaphor:
“Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transport. You’re not waiting for “the one” who’s absolutely perfect: you’re getting the bus, and if there isn’t one to your destination, you don’t not travel- you take the one going closest.” -Source Unknown.
Viewing the election as a bus trip may help reduce feelings of ambivalence or conflict when voting for candidates.