I’ve been on an exam-prep-induced hiatus from blogging for a while now, and may be for a while longer. I plan to work my way back to posting more regularly again in the coming months. But for today, I’m dropping back into your inbox because as you may know, we all have an event coming up on Tuesday.
In many ways it’s already begun, and in many ways it will continue well after November 3rd. Of course, I’m talking about the election.
This is a blog about emotional wellbeing, not about politics. I have nothing smart to add on the topic of what’s going to happen. I can, however, talk to you about why you may be obsessed with that question, and why you should spare a few thoughts for how you'll take care of yourself no matter what happens.
Since your nervous system is tasked with keeping you safe, tracking potential danger is a major priority. In this case, with the stakes of this election being what they are, your body may be registering threat. We are each experiencing different levels and types of threat based upon our identities, upon the nature and degree of privilege and oppression we live with.
For many, the election in 2016 was a major stressor, if not a trauma. Not to mention the four years that have followed, four years which added fascism and a pandemic to the already profound struggles of life within capitalism and white supremacy. This election is both an anniversary of that fateful day four years ago, and possibly a trauma of its own.
Whether from recent events or from long ago, many of our nervous systems are already fried. We are so tired of coping. We were tired of coping a long time ago. And yet, the reality is that we're not done with coping. Chances are pretty good that no matter which way the election goes, we’ve got some excitement in our future, and not necessarily the good kind.
Sound grim? It may be. But this time, we do have one major advantage, at least as far as emotional wellbeing is concerned: We see it coming.
Much of the past four years has been a litany of surprise. Even once we could no longer be shocked by the cruelty of our government, we never knew exactly what we would be dealing with next. While we're not luxuriating in certainty now either, we have had the date of this election in the back of our minds for a long time. Unconsciously, if not consciously, we've been watching it approach. While sometimes seeing an event coming just serves to give us more time for worry and dread, other times the advance notice can be a big help.
The difference is in the preparation.
Just a little bit of planning can mitigate the impact of a stressor on the nervous system. Both because your body will register the planned-for stress differently, and because you will have planned for it! Meaning, you may have some helpful things in place.
In these last couple of days, I invite you to make a coping plan. A plan can be very elaborate, or it can be just a few small elements. You can go for gold and set yourself up to be as well tended as possible, or if resources or energy are limited, you can say to yourself “cookies, fleece socks, call my sister.” Look, you’ve planned! Your nervous system will thank you.
Some things to consider:
Set the scene: Where will you be? Who will you be with? Who will you be in touch with from afar? How much/little will you watch election returns? How much/little will you be on social media? What will you eat? Do you plan to go to bed by a certain time?
Resource yourself: What might help you manage the stress to your nervous system while we wait for information, or experience what plays out? Get really concrete: A comfortable outfit, a favorite snack, a scheduled walk or stretch or run or dance break, a pet on the couch with you, crayons for coloring or a puzzle to put together, an alarm on your phone telling you to take five deep breaths, bubble wrap to pop or a pillow to pound your fists on, a favorite mindfulness or coping app, a playlist for muted commercial breaks, a heating pad or ice pack, images that you find beautiful or soothing, lotion or a candle with a scent you like….you get the idea.
Game out the follow-up: How about the days after? What do you want in place for yourself? A day off, a therapy appointment, a stocked refrigerator, a walk in nature, a phone/video date with someone close to you, time for extra sleep?
Make it official: However big or small, whether it's a solo plan, a friends plan, a couples plan, a family or pod or community plan, do whatever will make your plan meaningful. Write it in your journal, scribble it on a post-it, say it out loud to someone in your support system, put it on your calendar, send it in an email, put it in a Google doc, whatever's going to make it real to you.
Be open to adaptation: You know what they say about the best-laid plans. There's nothing wrong with making adjustments along the way. In fact, even if your entire plan ends up out the window, you will still benefit from having planned. The act of considering our wellbeing better attunes us to our needs. As needs change, so too may the plan need to change. The important thing is that we take care of ourselves and each other as best we can, through whatever is to come.
What's your Election Coping Plan?