How to Deal With Anxiety About the Election—or Anything Else
Peace is possible even when our worries come true.
Posted November 3, 2022 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
- Simple awareness in the present can reduce overwhelming anxiety.
- Questioning your assumptions that terrible things will happen can help you to see through the stories the mind creates.
- Receiving reality just as it is—even when we don't like it—helps us to release worry about things we can't control.
There are plenty of things to trigger our anxiety these days—the economy, war, and, of course, politics. Election day is fast approaching here in the United States, and outcomes from national races could determine the country's direction for at least the next couple of years, with control of the Senate and House up for grabs. You might be feeling some understandable worry about how things will turn out, and what they might mean for America and the rest of the world.
When anxiety grabs hold of you, use this simple practice to find peace; these four steps come from the research-backed practices of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness (adapted from Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).
1. Take a breath.
Breathe in. Breathe out slowly. You’re right here. (Seriously, that's it for step one. Just take a breath with awareness that you're breathing.)
2. Question the catastrophe.
Is your mind imagining a worst-case scenario, such as a political nightmare or financial ruin? Ask yourself how likely it is that things will turn out as badly as you fear. Maybe you've worried about similar situations that ended up being bad but not terrible. Or maybe most of your worries never happen. Perhaps there's a more realistic way of seeing things.
3. Open your heart.
Now, here’s the thing: Sometimes things do go terribly, horribly wrong. A loved one dies. We lose our health or our home. Our partner leaves us. We elect despicable politicians who enact horrific policies. And the deepest truth about our well-being is that it doesn’t have to depend on what happens to us or around us.
When you're worried about what might happen, or the outcome is as bad as you feared, see what it's like to take a gentle breath and ask yourself this question: Can I open to this? Even if you don't like what happened, are you willing to receive your experience, rather than insisting that things can't be this way?
I’ve had to use exercises like this one a lot over the past few years as I’ve dealt with an ongoing chronic illness and an unknown prognosis. I’ve had to learn, and relearn, that life is uncertain and that I can’t bank my happiness on things going the way I want.
I know this is hard. Especially when the worst actually happens or when you’re in pain. But resisting reality is also hard and offers no rest—no enduring peace. Is it possible to accept that this is the reality you're faced with and that you'll need to respond to?
If the answer is no—No, I can’t open to this…not this—then let yourself be with that. Receive that reality: You’re not ready to receive this pain, this struggle, this election result. It’s OK. That’s where you are.
4. Create your world.
Finally, take constructive action. What is one small step you could take to improve your world? It could be an act of self-care, such as making yourself a nice lunch or calling a friend to commiserate. Or it could be an act of service. Whatever it is, bring the breath. You still have lungs, and a body, and the ability to be in the present. Attend to the breath as you move into action, and bring this practice full circle.
Breathe in. Breathe out. You’re going to be OK. Even if everything is not OK.
Gillihan, S. J. (2022). Mindful cognitive behavioral therapy: A simple path to healing, hope, and peace. HarperOne.