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I know—the title reads absurd.
With only a few weeks left before the election, we all know (most likely) who we are voting for.
No debate or eloquently laid out argument would sway many people—this is an unprecedented election year. An election year plus a global pandemic and the wrath of ever-changing schedules, routines, and guidelines. We are all exhausted. Never mind that the holiday season is looming on the horizon too; it is wrought with emotionally charged dynamics—both on and offline.
I have found myself at a crossroads—one that I think is familiar for too many of us.
How do I navigate highly-charged emotional relationships with loved ones who differ in their views?
Four years ago, a lot of opinion pieces came out about navigating the holidays with family or friends who voted differently. I read, and have continued to read, so much rhetoric on name-calling, criticism, and the notion that we “cannot have a difference of opinion and still get along.”
Politics has been redefined right before our eyes in the last few years. To me, who is no political pundit or professional of any kind, this redefining is largely to blame for the passionate emotions we are all feeling—red or blue—fueled by the easy access to graphic creating software and social media platforms on which to share.
If you find yourself becoming increasingly irritated, irate, exhausted, anxious, or confused, I get it. I think most of us can relate on some level.
Here are Seven Tips for Maintaining Self-Care and Navigating Politics this Election Season:
I am guilty of consuming too much media: podcasts, news articles, and blog posts. Kentucky is my home state, and although I’m a military spouse and I have not lived there in ten years, the Breonna Taylor case became somewhat of an obsession.
Be mindful of everything.
Specifically, be mindful of what and how much you are consuming; it is easy to spend large amounts of time refreshing your newsfeed. Everything is “Breaking News!” and that can elicit an emotional response—signaling danger to our nervous systems.
Additionally, be mindful of what you are posting. We all feel passionate about our beliefs, but sometimes the viral posts on social media are hurtful to others that we love and care about. Social media is a sphere of many people from all time periods of our lives, and we forget how powerful our words can be.
Shameless plug for exercise. I really mean anything that will produce endorphins: a long walk around the neighborhood, a project around the house. Whatever it is, mindfully spend some time disconnecting and engaging with your body.
I know many of us are still struggling with this: amidst rotating gym access hours, weather changes, Zoom meetings, and virtual schooling. Don’t overcommit to something stupidly vigorous; just move enough to clear your mind.
Immerse Yourself in Nature
Retreat to nature whenever possible; especially now, as election season collides with the beginning of sad season. New science and research are continually emerging that nature has a profound impact on mental health. Among other things, exposure to sunlight and scenery outdoors can reduce anxiety and stress.
I am lucky to live in a state with a mild fall and winter season (for now). In previous years that has not always been the case. It is not the same in potency, but a sunlamp or a supplemental vitamin D addition can help. (Obviously, consult with a physician before adding any supplements. I’m an opinionated writer and definitely no doctor.)
To yourself and to others. Again with the mindful posting thing, don’t assume that your buddy has the same feelings as you; don’t assume the lady in front of you in the checkout line does either. Unless someone else approaches political topics—do not engage.
Because everything is emotionally charged right now, doing this only takes away our ability to be continually refrained and kind in real life. I know someone is going to say that is not true, but I believe it is. Our societal lack of real-time human interactions has slowly degraded our ability to empathize, and because of it, we are not as kind as we were, could, or should be.
Engage in Creativity
Sometimes our feelings of doom and gloom can contribute heavily to our perception of the world and of ourselves. If you find yourself being unable to disconnect and overall consuming too much news or social media—try getting creative.
I am no Pablo Picasso or even an amateur painter; in fact, I am arguably terrible at it. But, it does give me an opportunity to engage both my hands and my mind, ultimately distracting me from all the worldly noise and negativity. I am also a wiggle-worm that struggles to sit still; finding a creative activity that keeps my hands busy while giving my mind something to focus on can be quite centering.
If painting does not sound like your thing, you could also try working a puzzle or learning a new skill like embroidery, crochet, or macramé. Look, it’s 2020. The internet is full of possibilities for learning a new creative skill for either free or relatively cheap. Just try it.
From whatever you need, even if that means family or friends.
We all know about the unfollow and unfriend button. Did you know you can also choose to mute too? Another option is the Facebook “take a break” option, which will allow you to take a break from someone else as well as keep them from seeing your post. This is an option I learned after losing my son to stillbirth last year, and it has saved my mental health more than I can explain.
If your “take a break” option includes family or friends, you can utilize the tea-party relationship technique. In her book, Mothers Who Can’t Love, Dr. Susan Forward explains this technique as one in which participation in the conversation is shallow but tangible. Topics of conversation are redirected by you to include the discussion of only surface-level topics: books, movies, or the weather.
This is a useful technique if you cannot quite stomach political rhetoric. Although her book is written in an entirely different context, many of Dr. Forward’s techniques can apply here. For example, if a loved one repeatedly brings up politics knowing you disagree or after you have stated you do not wish to discuss it you can change the tone by simply saying, “I do not choose to have this conversation” or “You are entitled to believe whatever you would like.”
This is difficult with passion and emotion on high, but it is a viable option for continuing relationships without letting politics get in the way. However, if you believe that a difference in politics is a difference of morality—see fit to completely cut out anyone from your life; I support that too. In no way am I advocating one over the other, nor am I encouraging staying in an unhealthy situation.
To conclude, I am no expert of any kind, just a lady with a writing hobby who has had to become adaptive in my traveling, military-spouse life, and after losing my son. I cannot promise you that this list of suggestions is a cure-all—it certainly is not.
I feel just as lost and confused and overcome with passionate political emotions as the next person. However, I do believe we can all be a little more proactive in our behaviors both on and offline.
Try it. I would love to hear how it worked out for you.
And above all, good luck.