You did it. You voted. But you still don’t know who won the US presidential race.
If you’re feeling anxious, know that “nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action,” according to the late American painter and writer Walter Anderson.
The events of this year have been increasingly volatile and stressful for many people. They include a US presidential impeachment, a pandemic, a fraught election, unemployment, shifts to virtual work and school, and the deaths of cherished celebrities, athletes and loved ones.
So many simultaneous hardships and uncertainties is unusual. On top of all that, Tuesday was the culmination of one of the most polarized presidential elections in US history — and it’s not over.
“I don’t think this Election Day and week are quite like any in our recent history,” said Mary Alvord, a psychologist specializing in anxiety and depression and coauthor of “Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens.”
As the ballot counts keep changing and circumstances shift, “the news cycle is so quick and people are feeling conflicted. They really want to know what’s going on, but then they get overloaded … and very distressed with what they hear.”
When there is so much uncertainty this week, turning your attention to fun activities, friends and family, acts of service and amazing discoveries can help to alleviate your anxiety and ward off depression.
“One crucial factor of resilience is being proactive,” Alvord said. “Being proactive means doing good, helpful actions, which means taking initiative. That means you are problem-solving.”
Other keys to resilience are finding support in other people and “being able just to sit with the discomfort” — which starts with abandoning your expectations.
“If we expect that (final election results are) going to take a little while, it’s a lot easier to put all this in perspective,” Alvord said. “But if we want results quickly, then we’re going to be continually not just disappointed, but up and down with the emotional roller coaster.”
While we wait for election results, you can take steps to reduce stress during these next few nerve-racking hours or days.
1. Be a leader in rebutting misinformation and disinformation. If your family and friends are sharing misinformation about the election in-person or online, engage in a respectful conversation and point them toward credible resources with factual information. Here’s our short guide on how to have these conversations.
2. Go back to work. Returning to tasks that make you feel motivated, engaged and passionate can give you a sense of purpose and agency. You can focus on something besides the election, and put your mind to what you can change in your immediate sphere of influence.
3. Support a local restaurant. Order a special take-out meal this week. Small businesses have been financially struggling during the pandemic, so let one satisfy your taste buds and give a favorite local restaurant a boost.
4. Relax through a breathing meditation. Stress can harm our overall health and resilience in the face of challenges. Focusing on your breath is a form of beginner-level meditation that can reduce stress, thus calming your mind. Find a place where you can sit comfortably and experience minimal distractions.
5. Do this stretching routine to alleviate your stress headache. If anxiety and fear make your head pound, a five-minute stretch and breathing routine can loosen up the tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back.
6. Journal your worries. Write down your concerns to understand your feelings and decrease the likelihood of them showing up as stress, headaches and nightmares.
7. Take a nap or a bath (or both). Other than serving as a break from the real world, a short snooze may help you charge your brain’s batteries and boost creativity. Sinking into a warm bath can help you relax and improve your sleep quality.
8. Do yoga. Roll out your yoga mat and get into a pose to soothe tension.
9. Cry. When your eyes start to sting, respond to your body’s need for release: Crying is a critical part of self-care and a way to balance feelings of sadness, hurt or anger.
10. Accept your emotions. You might think that stifling your emotions will make them go away, but that can actually overwhelm you eventually. Instead, acknowledge your feelings to help them fade faster and realize opportunities for personal and political change — which can increase optimism.
11. Switch your devices to airplane mode and unplug for one hour. The rapids of countless notifications and headlines about the pandemic, the election, homeschooling, unemployment and the economy have been pulling at us all year. Putting your phone down can help you feel less overwhelmed.
Let the music take you
12. Want to get lost? Escape by tuning into any radio station around the world, made possible by Radio Garden, a nonprofit Dutch radio website and app that allows you to listen to thousands of live radio stations worldwide. Go to the site or the app, where you can spin the globe anywhere you’d like to choose your selection.
13. Dance like some people did while waiting in line to vote. Finding joy amid challenging and uncertain circumstances is a healthy habit for life.
14. Listen to ambient music. That’s to enter a dreamlike state, unlike the nightmare that is 2020. It can boost your mood and improve sleep quality. Tunes by Marconi Union, Boards of Canada and Taylor Deupree offer calming respites.
Laughter is the best medicine
15. Watch this video of sharp-witted squirrels. A man builds an obstacle course to render his bird feeder squirrel-proof and watches squirrels take their chances. “I would literally watch a whole season of Squirrel Wipeout,” one commenter said.
16. This baby laughs hysterically at ripping paper. Oh, the simple things in life.
17. Find comedic relief in photos. They’re from wildlife photographers who were finalists in this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.
18. Check out this video of two lynx. They’re having an intense conversation that may evoke the tortured feelings many people have toward 2020 and the election.
19. Start a social phone tree. Make a list of 10 to 20 people who you care most about. Put them in your phone in a rotation that helps you call one of those people every day, starting today. Connecting about our experiences and anxieties can help us persevere and to feel less isolated.
20. Phone a friend. Remind yourself that you’re not alone by calling a friend to hash out your election worries.
21. Send virtual hugs to friends and family (even if they disagree with you). Through gifs or downloads, let your loved ones know you still care about them even if you don’t always see eye to eye.
22. Learn how to talk politics with angry loved ones who disagree with you. The skill includes assessing your motives and intentions, being curious about the person and keeping your emotions in check.
23. Make a “come together” sign. Put a picture of the Beatles on the sign for your front yard and post it on Facebook. We could all use a warmhearted reminder of our similarities and abilities to work together for the collective good.
24. Walk, run or hike the Earth. It’s an opportunity for solitude, free thought and quality time. The activity may even lead to less repetitive, negative thoughts.
25. Go on a bike ride. In addition to strengthening your muscles, biking can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals.
26. Forest bathe. The practice comes from the Japanese word shinrin-yoku, which means “immersing in the forest atmosphere.” Do that to lower your stress level, heart rate and blood pressure.
27. Tend to your garden. More people have taken up gardening during the pandemic. Spending some time planning, nurturing, pruning and reaping the benefits of your harvest can be therapeutic and grounding.
28. Build a bonfire. If your local fire authorities allow, build a bonfire for warmth, s’mores and seasonal fun. If bonfires are prohibited, check whether your local campsites are renting out fire pits.
Curl up with tasty snacks and beverages
29. Bake cookies (and eat them). Humans love control, and the slow, detailed process of baking can give us just that: some therapy and a sense of accomplishment. Oh, and baked goods taste amazing, too.
30. Make a sandwich. Have a favorite sandwich or one you want to try? Make it and enjoy. And instead of arguing with your family over politics, maybe you should debate about what makes a sandwich a sandwich.
31. Eat some comfort food. Bites of fresh-baked cookies or macaroni and cheese can elicit powerful feelings of relaxation and nostalgia. Experience gastronomical bliss by cooking traditional or vegan comfort food recipes.
32. Enjoy real pumpkin-flavored baked goods. ‘Tis the season for pumpkin-flavored everything. Try your hand at some foods with real pumpkin instead of the artificial, sugary flavor (no shame): including pumpkin butter and pumpkin beer bread.
33. Boost your mood with (healthier) food. Comfort food has its place, but these healthier swaps and other foods that deliver important brain nutrients can support the stable well-being we need this week.
35. Feeling creative? Try one of 30-plus homemade meals made by people who are working from home, homeschooling and more during the pandemic, too.
Put your mind to games instead of the election
36. Play Encore. Can you sing a song with the word “love” in the lyrics? Or what about songs with names of the months? This music game for all ages is about singing songs with the words or categories you’re dealt.
37. Solve a jigsaw or crossword puzzle. Puzzles are an evergreen activity that transcend trend, age group and circumstance. Turn your focus to solving the big picture and feeling a sense of accomplishment.
38. Play video games. Indulge in imagined spaces and creative possibilities. Collaborative video gaming has benefits for literacy, well-being and connection with others.
39. Play Cards Against Humanity. Like a dark-humored version of Mad Libs, players respond to questions by picking the funniest or most outrageous options from a deck of answer cards. Or check out the family version.
40. Play spoons with your family or housemates. Deal players a hand from a standard deck of cards. In the center of the floor or table, place one fewer spoons than the number of players. Take turns trying to collect four of and until someone does and everyone grabs a spoon. Those who don’t grab a spoon facilitate a process of elimination until someone wins.
Remind yourself of the wonders of the world
41. Marvel at the complexity of the human body. Read up on a possibly newly discovered organ in the human throat. Although scientists have been studying human anatomy for more than 2,000 years, there is still so much to learn.
42. Get to know this super-beetle. It can survive being run over by a car — and help with engineering challenges.
43. Learn about the “Mad Hatterpillar.” These caterpillars use their old, molted heads for defense against predators. They have a built-in Halloween costume.
44. Know why there may be more water on the moon than previously believed. The water could be used as a resource during upcoming NASA missions.
45. Meet these spiders that don’t have ears but can still hear you. (I’m sorry.)
Keep hope alive
46. Read inspiring quotes and phrases. Some that have been around for decades may have the encouragement we need to stay balanced during troubling times.
47. Focus on what you can change. Writing a list of what we can and can’t control right now is a powerful way of feeling less helpless by controlling how you think. Use the list to grab back the steering wheel of your life.
48. Practice mindfulness exercises for appreciation. Take a few minutes to think of the people who have cared for and supported you. This appreciation can help you to be more mindful of the positive parts of life and to maintain optimism.
49. Start a gratitude journal. Some people swear by keeping a daily gratitude journal to jot down a few people and/or things they’re thankful for. The practice can help you stay afloat through depression and improve your happiness and relationships.
50. Volunteer for causes you care about. Use your negative emotions or noble passions to actively support causes that you care about, which can add meaning to your life.