2020 has been an especially challenging year. We are in the midst of navigating the election season while also managing the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, physical distancing, and remote learning. Engaging with the democratic process can be meaningful, but it can also be exhausting with heightened emotion and stress. We want to encourage you to regularly check-in with what you are experiencing, and develop a self-care plan that works for you. While this election season can present unique stressors, it is also an opportunity to practice important life skills including how to deal with difficult emotions and circumstances.
Pace yourself and manage your resources. This process will last for months during an already busy Fall semester.
Here are some factors that may affect you during this election season and strategies to help address them:
Fear of the future
Introduction“It’s easy to feel like the sky is falling during elections,” licensed clinical psychologist Stephanie Smith told The Huffington Post. Regardless of what your political views are, many people have fears that the election outcome will impact their way of life, rights and values. At times, you may also feel hopelessness or helplessness to impact possible outcomes.
Strategies• Own your feelings--It okay to feel mad, sad, anxious or whatever you feel. In fact, it’s important not to minimize or dismiss these feelings because they can give you important information about what action steps to take. Dominic Pettman, professor and book author, said “When I’m asked how people can have less stress, it makes me think of asking a lobster in a boiling pot how to chill out. ” “I think you just need to feel the stress, work with it, use it to transform things …”
• Practice being present-focus. Anxiety about possible future events depletes energy to deal the future when it arrives. Ask yourself if there are any likely future possibilities that you need to plan for. Make time to plan, and then gently shift your focus back to here-and-now. You may have to make this shift back to the present many times throughout your day.
• Focus on things within your control. When you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed shift your focus, and identify one or two small things you can do. For example, participate in the political process, engage in small acts of kindness, and/or create a self-care plan (for ideas-- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/05/ways-to-de-stress-100_n_6068956...).
• Connect with community. Community can help ground us and support us. Community is an important part of our strength, coping and ability to create change.
• Know your strengths and capacity for resilience. Change is inevitable. Every generation has had their socio-political challenges. Know that you have internal and external resources to weather upcoming storms, as you and your communities have in the past.
Overwhelmed/confused by information overload
IntroductionWe live in a world of 24-hour, non-stop information. This does not always lead to us being better informed. Educating yourself and filtering unhelpful information can give you a sense of control.
Strategies• Monitor your media. Ask yourself how do I feel before and after this taking in this information? Use this information to deter- mine and set limits
• Set boundaries on your information consumption. Know that you can only process so much information effectively. Find a few reliable sources of information. Don’t cycle through the same stressful news over and over again throughout your day. Disconnect when you can and practice moments of present-focus.
• Balance your information consumption with humorous or joyful content. “There are still a lot of wonderful things happening in the world and people making positive change.” “That’s hard to remember when candidates rip each other apart, so actively remind yourself of that,” said Stephanie Smith (psychologist, Huffington Post).
Negative impact of other people’s speech/actions on your well-being
IntroductionWithin our country and our university we have freedom of speech, and sometimes the impact of other people's words or actions is hurtful/harmful. As we have seen in recent events around the world, and at UM, we individually and collectively have the power to tear each down or build each other up. We do not have to mirror the chaos and destructiveness around us. We can manage our emotions and be intentional with our words. We cannot control the entire world, but we each can do our part help create a unique environment at UM in line with the university’s aspirational values--”where all people are welcomed, respected, and nurtured in their academic and social development.”. We do this by engaging in social discourse with respect, radical listening, compassion and mutual empathy.
Strategies• Practice self-awareness. Check your emotional state before your speak. Are your words fueled by fear, anxiety or anger? Are you in a good place to engage in dialogue? Research shows that once people’s heart rates are elevated no listening actually takes place (Gottman). Breathe, and know your intention before you speak. Consider the impact of your words.
• Practice perspective taking. Consider our common humanity. We all managing fear, and hoping for safety, well-being and betterment of ourselves and loved one.
• Practice effective communication skills (e.g., “I” language; avoid labeling/generalizing).
• Know your limitations. It may not always be productive to debate. Know when to walk away from a conversation.
• Know where your safe spaces are. Connect with others to process. But avoid getting stuck in long circular conversations that fuel each other’s anxiety.
• Engage in intentional self-care following exposure to hurtful and destructive speech/interactions. It is clear that micro-aggressions and hate speech have substantial effects on psychological and physical health. It is important to engage in restorative self-care (for ideas-- http://justjasmineblog.com/self-care-for-people-of-color-after-emotional...) to buffer against these negative effects.
Managing political difference in your relationships
IntroductionAt UM you will interact with lots of different people with varying perspectives. As you have discussions, you may even be surprised by viewpoints that your friends, romantic partners or family members hold. Conflicting viewpoints may create tension and strain, and lead to feelings of anger and isolation. You may even find yourself pulled in different directions, with conflicting views and values.
Strategies• Opt out of unproductive conversations. Is this discussion going to benefit anyone or just increase everyone’s stress level and increase interpersonal distance? It is not necessary to talk about politics in all of your relationships.
• Set boundaries in your relationships. Think about what boundaries you need in order maintain meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, this may be a time where you need to limit contact with people who bring unnecessary negativity and conflict into your life.
IntroductionLastly, we cannot overstate the importance of consistent self-care. When people are stressed, self-care is often the first thing to go. But the on-going practice of self-care is essential to your well-being, your academic performance, and surviving the stress of the election season. Taking small steps regularly can make a big difference. Eat, sleep, play. Don’t stop doing what refuels you, relaxes you, or makes you smile.