After a very contentious election season and the ongoing pandemic, you might feel exhausted by the increased stress and conflict surrounding the last several months. Regardless of your political views, you could feel strong emotions about the outcome of the election and the ongoing political/ethical/moral dialogues that may occur during conversations with friends, family, co-workers, or even on social media. Some of these dialogues may feel quite intense and being bombarded with them day after day for months can start to cause heightened tension, stress, frustration and/or anxiety. You might believe you do not have the ability to resolve your own raw emotions or even create meaningful change in your communities.
However, there are many ways to help promote your own wellbeing, repair strained relationships, and make positive changes that benefit your immediate and broader communities:
- Remember to take care of your own personal health. Enhance your physical health by being active regularly, eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining a routine sleep schedule, and avoiding or decreasing substance use such as alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, or other drugs.
- Monitor your mental and emotional wellbeing. Carefully choose how much time, attention, and energy you are putting into various topics, websites, or social media platforms. You can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, opinions, and conflict that occurs in these mediums. Limit your time or when you are engaging emotionally charged material.
- Find ways to change your thinking patterns when possible. You are capable of adjusting your thoughts when you catch yourself thinking in overly negative ways or feeling discomfort such as anxiety. Write out the thoughts that seem negative or upsetting and spend time looking for evidence supporting or disagreeing with such thoughts (e.g. Negative thought: Nobody cares about me or my values; Evidence for: People don’t agree with me on some important things; Evidence against: People seem to want to hear my opinions, even if they don’t ultimately agree, etc.). After examining all of the evidence, you might be able to make some alteration to the original negative thought which could make it more balanced and/or accurate.
- Speak with loved ones who can support you when you are overwhelmed by the current climate. Try to seek out people who are encouraging and understanding when possible, as this can help you maintain a more positive, hopeful frame of mind.
- Try to notice the positive developments that are occurring around you even if you perceive more prominent negative changes. Focusing only on the negative will often put you in a negative state of mind yourself. If you see problems or areas of concern, notice these things, but then also try to consider any “silver lining” or other ways of reframing situations to be more balanced. The truth is that life is neither exclusively ideal nor exclusively terrible. Life is always a balance of both in various proportions. You might have to look harder for the positive, but it is important to look nonetheless.
- Laughter is the best medicine, and can be a useful way to cope with distress. Studies show that laughing and smiling can change your outlook or emotions in just seconds. Suffering can be mitigated by viewing your situation through a new lens. Perhaps you find something so absurd that it is laughable. Well, laugh! It might be a lifeline you need to make it through a challenging period.
- Make efforts to increase your expression of generosity. Helping others often helps us feel better as well. Altruism can go a long way toward increasing life satisfaction and increasing one’s sense of purpose. You can show generosity in many ways beyond giving away money. Donate time to a charitable cause you appreciate. Send a letter to a loved one or friend to let them know you are thinking of them. Go through possessions you no longer need or want and donate them to a charity of your choice. You can even show random acts of kindness to strangers (e.g. Buy the beverage for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, etc.). Helping others can promote a positive mental and emotional state.
- Engage in good self care by participating in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Save time in your day to do something pleasurable even if you only have small portions of time available. In addition to managing stress, participating in enjoyable hobbies will keep you healthy, resilient, and more capable of enduring stress or tension.
- Set boundaries and choose the topics you are willing to engage with those around you. Although people might be caught up in the current emotional climate, that doesn’t mean you are required to participate. You can politely, but firmly set boundaries with others when you are approaching conversations that feel unsafe or unproductive to you. A good way to heal a tense relationship is to find common ground when possible, while ultimately avoiding topics that agitate the relationship.
- Consider talking with a therapeutic professional about ways to mitigate distress and promote your own wellbeing in challenging times. A good therapist can provide unbiased, supportive guidance that can help you navigate difficulties such as personal distress and/or conflict with loved ones. No matter who you are, what you believe, or how you vote, we all benefit from safe spaces and relationships to explore our values and solve dilemmas we are facing. Many therapists are providing virtual telehealth sessions so that you are able to speak while keeping safe during the pandemic.
Even when you feel you are not in control of important aspects of your life or environment, there are always ways to make positive impacts on yourself or others. Consider the strategies above to help you achieve a healthy balance which can ultimately boost your quality of life. Take good care!