Feeling stressed over this election? I personally have lost sleep over it, lost friends over it, and have experienced a level of anxiety unparalleled since we were placed in lockdown during the search for the Boston Marathon bomber.
Going well beyond the typical election, the fear, mistrust, and anger these campaigns have unleashed is unnerving. It chills me to the bone to hear the newly emboldened voices of hate, including the Klan, anti-semites, Islamaphobes, and misogynists, to name a few.
And if you’ve noticed that you’re more irritable and on-edge these days, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association (APA) recently revealed that almost 60% of Americans surveyed indicated that this election is a significant source of stress. No one is immune– Republicans and Democrats alike reported similar levels of stress.
The study, however, was conducted in August, well before the Access Hollywood tapes came out. It’s likely that had they surveyed the 3,500 Americans today, they’d find the stress levels have gone up. Way up.
Thing is: there is not much we can control in this race. The lack of control over something this important can easily lead any of us to feel powerless, and anxious. We can even feel really angry towards those who don’t agree with our perspective. Add it up, and it’s a recipe for feeling stressed out.
So, how do we protect ourselves from getting emotionally banged-up over the next several weeks? How can we handle stress so that it doesn’t cloud our mind with fear and loathing, to quote Hunter S. Thompson?
Here are several, relatively easy and low-cost ways to counteract the stress. You’ll notice that none of them has to do with changing anything external. The suggestions below are aimed at helping us manage the one thing that we really can control: the freedom to choose what we think. Even if some of the grown-ups in the room have lost their collective minds.
It’s called M.I.N.D.F.U.L.
M. Mini-Meditation. Before you get out of bed in the morning, give yourself five minutes to do a quick meditation. Yes, your mind will wander; that’s expected. Gently but firmly bring your thoughts back to a focal point—either your breath, or a mantra such as “peace”, “relax”, or whatever word makes you feel centered. In study after study, including work at UC-Davis by MacLean (2010), meditation has been shown to improve our power of concentration as well as build the “letting go” muscle. This is because we let go of random thoughts and purposely focus our minds on something calming. Five minutes a day. If you don’t have five in the morning, try five when you go to pick up the kids from school, or five before bed.
I. Integrate a Yoga practice into your life. Restorative yoga, or any yoga that helps you feel calmer. Even ten minutes a day will help release the tightness that settles in the muscles when we get stressed.
Pair your home practice with something else that is non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth. Think, after I brush up, I’ll practice for ten minutes. A full class is great too. If you can’t come to one of my classes on a Wednesday or Friday mornings, check out on-line yoga (like www.yogaglo.com, or www.yogatoday.com), or other studios in your area.
N. Nap. As in, mid-afternoon, 15-20 minutes. This type of self-care helps us feel more aware and alert, less stressed and according to the National Sleep Foundation, puts us in a better mood. Think of it as an investment in the rest of your day.
D. Deep breaths. Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. This is so good in terms of accessing the relaxation response. Among other things, deep breathing activates the vagus nerve, which helps switch the nervous system from fight/flight/freeze to a more relaxed awareness. Additionally, it boosts our immune system and releases anti-stress enzymes. Do it anytime.
F. Friend. Treat yourself like you would a good friend. I’d been seeking media info on this campaign the way a junkie seeks a fix. Kind of addictive. But, it didn’t help me feel secure, or peaceful, or happy. Instead, my fear-based-news-obsession revved me up. Treating myself the way I would treat a good friend means I’d encourage myself to get off the computer and get some fresh air, take a walk, eat something nourishing.
This thinking is consistent with the APA’s suggestion to limit exposure to media coverage during this election. It’s like breaking a habit. And worth it: Selectively attending to the news can have a powerfully positive effect on us and our families.
U. Unselfish acts of charity. There is substantial evidence, including work by Konrath (2011), that altruistic behaviors are linked to better health outcomes. Giving away your time or money honors the fact that, as the Dali Llama suggests, we are all interconnected through our vulnerabilities and our wish for happiness. This in and of itself can have a soothing effect on the nervous system.
L. Laughter. Laughing releases good-feeling hormones, such as dopamine, endorphins and nitric oxide. These are the same hormones that not only combat aging, but also help us feel less stressed. So, grab an old comedy that you love, or a funny friend that you love, or listen to The Dean Obeidallah Show on Sirius XM—something, anything that makes you chuckle. Some swear by Laughing Yoga; if you try that, let me know what you think.
To de-stress, you needn’t do all of these at once. Think of this list as a set of choices that you can pick and choose from when you’re stressed about this election, or stressed about anything, really.
Reach for the one that comes to your mind first. The more we drop down and listen to our internal messages, the more we access our own innate wisdom. As this election has undermined trust at a national level, cultivating a deeper trust of our own mind and body is vital to making it through this month unscathed.
I’ve never felt comfortable being indoors on beautiful summer days. So recently, I convinced the girls and our dog, Baci to pack a picnic lunch and go for a long walk around the Brookline reservoir. The sun was shining, the geese were flocking, and we were enjoying the beauty of the water together. All that was about to change.
Our serenity was instantly shattered when Baci spotted, sitting right there in broad daylight, a vicious-looking coyote on the water’s edge. The coyote’s head was down, teeth bared, eyes wide open and body stiffened. Baci’s low rumble turned into massive action, rapidly pulling the leash and me toward this beast.
Baci was in full fight/flight mode and so was I. My chest and neck tensed with adrenaline and my sweating hand began to slip off his leash. As we charged closer, I noticed something strange about this coyote. It was still. Very still. As in made of rubber still. A coyote statue that someone has staked into the ground.
Relieved. Deep breaths. And recognition– our lives are like this. Somedays, a lot like this. Misreading a situation, interpreting danger when things are actually safe, thinking someone said or did something hurtful when in fact nothing of the kind actually happened. Even my car does this when I put my purse in the front passenger seat. The seatbelt sign and bell ring relentlessly as if an unbuckled person was in that seat, when actually no one is there.
As Shannon L. Alder reminds us, “most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, ‘What else could this mean?'” A simple and profound question. In fact, it’s brilliant because it puts space between the situation and our thoughts. It interrupts the train of thought that sees something, creates a story about it, and boom, sends us off and running, full-on stress response.
What else could this mean? Such inquisitiveness in our relationships may help us see with more clarity, whether it’s to better understand an ambiguous look from our tween/teen, a confusing message from a loved one, or a complicated circumstance. If we interrupt the story in our heads with this question of curiosity then we connect to something beyond the tangle of ego and it’s fear-based reactions. We can explore our experiences with our hearts willing to see clearly and willing to learn. And that opens the door to wholehearted love, patience and presence.
As parents, we are in the position of setting the tone for our family life. We can set it with anxiety and hyper-vigilance, or we can set it from a place of less distortion, of more trust. It’s up to us. I believe we are in service to the greater good when we are not wrapped up in anxiety-mode. It’s understandable how we can get there, and it’s equally understandable that we long to get out of there.
Today, would you join me in asking , “what else could this mean” when you see something in your world that doesn’t make sense or that is upsetting? The question may reveal that something really is wrong, but more likely it won’t. And if something actually needs to be addressed, wouldn’t it be everyone’s best interest to fix it from a place of centered openness?
Everything we think, every action we take, shows the world what is in our hearts. Let’s live our lives from our center, from the values that inspire us, from this place that asks for the truth and receives love as its answer.
DEAR MR. TRUMP,
As you might have guessed, we’re up to our elbows here in back-to-school stuff, carpools, dirty laundry, meal time, bed time, sibling rivalry fight time, prayer time and limits on screen time. And frankly, sir, you’ve become more than a mother’s worst nightmare.
Why do I and countless other mothers know that? Simple. You’re teaching the kids to do exactly what we’ve been teaching them NOT to do for their entire little lives. Yes, you’ve been undoing the parenting, from your house to ours.
We taught our children to embrace others with respect, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity or faith. You teach them the opposite. You tell them it’s okay to demonize those who look or pray differently. We shake our heads in disbelief when you say that just because of a person’s ethnicity, they are not qualified to do a job, as you did with Judge Curiel. We cringe when you suggest a ban on all Muslims trying to enter our country, simply because of their religion.
We’ve taught our kids that what matters most is how someone behaves, not how they look. We taught our children to be compassionate and caring to those with disabilities. You taught them to mock these same people. You taught them to put down women, especially those who don’t measure up to your standards of beauty.
We taught our children that they’ll be judged by who they hang out with. You taught them that it’s okay to retweet messages from neo-Nazis and spend a lot of time with those known as white supremacists.
And just as bad, you are teaching our children that bullying is okay. In contrast, across America anti-bullying campaigns in schools have been teaching kids not to bully others. In fact, if our children stirred up the fear, hate and aggression on the playground that you do at your rallies, you’d better believe they’d be shut down, and fast. And worse you even encourage people to beat up those who disagree with you by promising to pay their legal fees if they are sued or arrested.
We could go on, but let us finish with one more thing: Gratitude. We teach our children to be grateful when someone does something nice for them. Very, very grateful when someone does something really big for them, and even more appreciative when someone does something truly heroic for them, such as serve in our armed forces. Yet when we look at your words, your behavior, we see the opposite of gratitude. The most recent example being your belittling of the Khan family whose son made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
As President, you would be more than the head of our federal government, you would be a role model for children. You would set a tone based on your words and conduct of what our kids should emulate. I shudder to think of a nation where a generation of our children are taught that sexism, racism, bigotry, mocking the disabled and worse is acceptable because our President is doing just that.
If you were any of our children we would give you a time out and then try to explain why compassion and tolerance is important to being not just a good American but to being a good human being. But you, sir, are 70 years old. I doubt there’s anything anyone can say that could persuade you to change your ways.
The only option for us mothers is to tell our children to not follow your example. And just as importantly, for us mothers to vote against you – not only for us as women, but for the good of our children and their future.
I hate that book, The Rainbow Fish. You know, it’s the story about the most beautiful fish in the sea, whose unique shiny scales evoke such jealousy from his friends, that they withhold connection and love from him. They finally come around and give Rainbow Fish friendship, but only after the Rainbow Fish removes each of these shiny scales, and gives a scale to each of his friends. The Rainbow Fish is no longer so shiny, he doesn’t stand out in a crowd, he looks like the rest of the fish, and then, the group can accept him. What the hell?!!
I get that The Rainbow Fish story is supposed to be about the joys of sharing, but to me it conveys a less positive message: if you shine too bright, those around you won’t be able to contain their jealousy and you’ll be rejected, isolated. You want acceptance and love? Then dull what is most magnificent about you, hide your greatest asset, and for God’s sake, don’t sparkle so bright. Even if it means, as it does with the RF, mutilating yourself.
Maybe you can relate. I certainly can. For years, I covered up my divine sparkle. I’d let the fear that someone would be threatened or threatening get to me. I went into hiding. I still struggle with this urge. I know a lot of you out there hide your sparkle too. We want to protect that wounded part of ourselves that believes it is too risky to shine. Maybe a parent, or sibling or friend was threatened by your success. Or maybe you learned from experiences of physical, emotional or sexual abuse that it was dangerous to stand out. The good news is that our unique spark can never be destroyed, but too often we keep it hidden under layers of emotional batting.
Ironically, covering up our divine sparkle doesn’t get us the genuine connection we’re after, nor does it keep us safe. It says to the universe that we don’t trust that we’re divinely protected and guided. But the truth is that when we bring all of our brilliant faculties to a situation, we access even greater intuition, deeper power, and even more divine guidance. Embrace the sparkle that is glimmering within you, peeking through those clouds to reveal its beautiful light.
You have something amazing to share. Don’t diminish who you are to please someone else or satisfy their limiting ideas. We each have a unique shimmer and by expressing yours, you free others to find and shine their sparkle too.
In this very moment, you genuinely have the power. The power to make the decision, and then make it again and again and again to not spend one more minute dulling what is your birthright—to sparkle and to shine that beautiful essence of yours. God knows we need it.
A few years back, we had a beautiful blue stone walkway installed in front of our house. It was expertly put in, the right amount of gravel and clay underneath the carefully placed slabs of bluestone. However, over the years, something has happened. Blades of grass, weeds, and moss have pushed themselves up between the slabs. It is just like nature, isn’t it? No matter what is in front of us, the deeper nature has a way of pushing itself up and through any obstacles, revealing the truth of what is underneath.
We are like those blades of grass. Whatever is pressing on you right now, your true nature–which is joyful and loving– is determined to push itself to the surface. This, our true nature, always emerges, vital, strong, and steady. Count on it. Your light will always break through the darkness.