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5 Things to Do If You’re Already Way Too Stressed About the Midterms

For everyone who knows “just unplug” isn’t practical advice.
Midterm Elections
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Voting in next week’s midterm elections is very, very important: Every single one of us needs to show up at the polls for the sake of the nation as a whole, as well as for our local communities. I’m excited to exercise my right to vote, but I’m also nervous about what may happen after I wait in line at my polling place, fill out my ballot, and return home—when all that’s left to do is wait and see what happens. I always feel a very specific type of dread after voting, even if I think the candidates I’ve chosen have a good chance.

I have no doubt that being glued to different types of media for hours on end exacerbates that dread: There’s simply nothing healthy (or helpful!) about simultaneously blasting a cable network, doomscrolling through Twitter on my phone, and chaotically checking multiple news sites at once on my laptop late into the night. But I’ve personally always found the advice to “just unplug” a little irritating, given what’s at stake—like reproductive rights, climate change, gun control, civil rights, health care policies that affect millions of people, and so much more.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who finds that recommendation tone deaf—and just downright impractical. “Everybody always says, ‘Disconnect and take time off,’ but [elections] matter so much to us that it’s not realistic,” Justin Puder, PhD, a psychologist based in Boca Raton, Florida, tells SELF.

While I know myself well enough to predict that I won’t be able to fully unplug on Election Day, I am going to make a concerted effort to lower my stress level in the days leading up to November 8. To figure out how to do that, I spoke with mental health experts who explained what you can do before and during the midterms to prioritize your well-being.

1. Figure out exactly how you’ll respond when you hear people sharing political opinions that make you want to scream.

If you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by people who share your values and politics, that’s great—don’t go out of your way to change that during midterms, Dr. Puder recommends.

But most of us will likely come in direct contact with at least a couple of people we don’t agree with. Whether it’s in the break room at work, at a family gathering, or at the park you take your children to or walk your dog in, there’s a good chance you’ll hear a few people express terrible opinions and/or flatly incorrect information during this time—and it’s worth preparing for that in advance.

A great way to do this is to rehearse exactly how you’ll respond if someone starts discussing a topic you don’t have the mental or emotional energy to argue about, Jessica Stern, PhD, a psychologist at NYU Langone, tells SELF. “Have something prepared,” Dr. Stern says. “Have a couple of stock responses that can divert the conversation.” If you know that one coworker will try to egg you on, Dr. Stern says you could use a script like this one: “I appreciate that you’re invested in this, but I would love if we could stay focused on our tasks at work right now.”

If you know this is most likely to happen with family members, think through three other subjects you can quickly bring up to avoid conflict, Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, a psychiatrist and psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. To be clear, we’re not saying you should avoid all political conversations with family members. On the contrary: Having these discussions can be helpful and actually change hearts and minds. But Election Day itself may not be the best time to try to change someone’s viewpoint. So if you’ve already tried to openly and honestly talk politics in the weeks leading up to November 8—or if you feel unsafe speaking with relatives about your views—you may need to redirect those dinner table conversations to neutral ground until the midterms chaos fades. If changing the subject doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to clearly state your needs. “We should always be able to choose the conversations we’re pulled into,” Dr. Puder says. “It’s okay to say, ‘That’s not something I want to talk about.’”

2. Make a plan for how you’ll stay updated.

Again, nobody here is suggesting that you just turn off all your devices and call it a day after voting. The good news is that there are many ways you can make your media consumption less stressful on November 8.

  • Consider how much of a role you want social media to play now. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be hard to navigate during election cycles, so you may decide to stick with more traditional news sources this time around. There’s truly no shame in not getting minute-by-minute updates from political journalists and pollsters, and it’s likely that we won’t have a totally clear picture of every race on Election Night: “Things can change rapidly, for better or for worse,” Dr. Stern says. “Practice thoughts that are balanced, like: Let’s see what happens before we celebrate or mourn.” At the very least, consider muting any social media accounts that you know will likely post upsetting content on Election Day, Dr. Albers-Bowling recommends.
  • Schedule your news breaks. Don’t just mindlessly pick up your phone every time the midterms flit through your thoughts. “Choose times that are best for checking in,” Dr. Albers-Bowling says. “First thing in the morning may spiral the rest of your day.” Select times when you’re typically at your calmest, such as during your lunch break, she recommends. You could also decide you won’t look at anything until, say, 10 p.m., when there’s less speculation and more concrete information.
  • Take it slow. I’m so guilty of glancing at my phone and then jumping from headline to headline to headline, swallowing up news stories until I feel dizzy. But November 8 simply isn’t the time for rabbit holes, Dr. Stern says. “Try and pace yourself in terms of the information your mind is processing,” she recommends.

3. Consider volunteering before and/or on Election Day.

So many aspects of the upcoming elections are out of our hands—and feeling powerless can have an impact on you. “The struggle with elections is they often feel beyond our control,” Dr. Stern says. “The antidote to that would be to focus on what we’re able to control, like volunteering with organizations we’re aligned with.”

There are lots of ways you can still get involved in important races. To name a few: You can volunteer to drive people to the polls on (or before) Election Day (if you can’t find a local group to get involved with, consider posting an offer in your neighborhood Facebook group); assist on the ground at local polling sites; and sign up to phone bank, which just means reaching out to eligible voters via call or text to make sure they have all the info they need to cast their votes. (You can find more info on volunteering at your local polling place here.) If you’re not sure where to start, connect with a local community organizing group or visit your favorite candidates’ websites and see how you can assist with the work they are already doing.

Showing up for a cause you really care about can calm your nerves when you feel like you can’t just sit around and watch everything unfold, Dr. Stern says. “Plan ahead,” she advises, “so you’re proactive rather than reactive.”

4. Don’t compromise on sleep—or any other de-stressing activities.

Election coverage can—and often does—last well into the night. But, as tempting as it may be to stay up late refreshing your feeds, try to stick to your usual bedtime, even if races that are particularly important to you haven’t been called yet. “The results are going to be the same whether you get four hours of sleep or eight,” Dr. Puder says.

The same goes for any other tried-and-true habits you know keep you at your best mentally and physically, he adds: “Don’t skip that yoga class, take that hot bath, get outside in nature.”

Sticking with your usual routine may actually keep you from becoming distressed if things don’t go the way you were hoping, Dr. Albers-Bowling says. This is because your normal day-to-day practices can keep you grounded in the present during a time when you’re inclined to catastrophize, she says.

5. Be prepared to get out of the house.

It may seem counterintuitive to plan a fun hang out if you’re anticipating a stressful week—but doing so could be just the ticket, Dr. Albers-Bowling says. You might actually benefit from a Sunday or Monday night dinner with a close friend whose values are aligned with yours, she adds: “Some healthy distraction, some social time, could be great.”

This particular activity could also give you a designated time and place to vent—which can (temporarily) be a good thing, Dr. Puder adds. “Find the people who you can process what you’re feeling with; you don’t want those emotions to just be stuffed down,” he says. The key here is to make sure you don’t get stuck in a venting cycle. After you’ve let it out, try to change the subject to something less emotionally charged for a while, he recommends. “Venting can be a release, but we don’t want to stay in any one emotional state. We’re able to move on, feeling like there are other people that are in this fight with us.”

Ultimately, treating yourself well during the midterm elections—or any time, for that matter—is a crucial part of showing up for your community, Dr. Puder says. After all, we’re going to be in the fight for a better world for a long time, and it doesn’t do you any good to go hard and then burn out quickly. “You have to keep yourself afloat,” he says. “You’re going to be the best advocate you can be for your cause if you’re taking care of yourself.”