Three Ways to Fight Anxiety on a Long and Scary Election Day

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Photo: Fuse/Corbis/Getty Images

For anyone who cares about the future of the country, today is going to be a really long, anxious day. And there’s going to be a sense of impotence, too: Between now and when the first states are called, there just won’t be much news to consume, politics-wise. Today will consist of a lot of sitting around, pretending to work (if you are an office drone), and endlessly checking the news for nuggets that don’t actually mean anything, since it’s going to take a long time for any substantive numbers to come in.

So instead of falling into an endless wait-refresh, wait-refresh cycle, why not dabble in some anxiety-management techniques? Below are a few ideas. The third is a bit climate dependent, but the other two can be done by anyone who can steal the three minutes it takes to get a cup of coffee or go to the bathroom.

1. If you already meditate, set a time (or multiple times) on your calendar app to meditate during the day tomorrow. If not, try meditation lite. In March I wrote about how, flustered by my inability to do even the most basic forms of meditation on a consistent basis, I tried a stripped-down version. Basically, I only worried about taking deep breaths and counting out 25 deep breathes. I didn’t worry about what popped into my head, didn’t try to become more sensitive to my bodily sensations, or any of that — I just breathed and counted.

I found I felt way calmer at the end of each session. And there was none of that “Ugh, I’m not doing that right” feeling that had dogged my attempts at “real” meditation, when I shifted around too much or couldn’t clear my mind or whatever. With meditation lite, all you have to do is count and breathe and not worry about anything else. You will feel calmer at the end, because our bodies have physiological responses to those long, slow breaths.

2. Try a mind-set-intervention writing exercise. Mind-set interventions, summed up in this Science of Us article about how Olympic athletes manage their stress, start from a basic premise: Stress isn’t always bad for you. In fact, if you can harness it, it can make you a better, stronger person. The first step is to simply realize that feeling anxious can be a normal, adaptive response.

One way to harness your stress is through a brief writing exercise connecting your anxiety to your sense of who you are. Take five or ten minutes, or however much time you can spare, and write a bit about the anxiety you’re feeling. Specifically, write about how this election and your preference for who wins, taps into who you are as a person: what your values are, what matters to you, and so on. For example, I’m concerned about the country’s treatment of immigrants, who I think deserve respect and opportunity, so I’m really worried that the outcome of today’s election will make life worse for them. You might find your anxiety no longer feels like some menacing, free-floating symptoms — rather, it’s a reflection back at you of who you are and what you believe. There’s a lot at stake, it’s okay to be anxious, and that anxiety can only make you stronger.

3. If you’re in one of the country’s cooler regions, revel in the Norwegian word for coziness, and find yourself a few minutes of it. Almost exactly a year ago, Melissa Dahl wrote about koselig, a Norwegian word that doesn’t translate directly to English but which basically means coziness. As Dahl wrote, the Norwegians take wintertime koselig very seriously — to them, “winter becomes a kinder, cozier season, one that’s not meant to be dreaded, because it comes with its own perks: skiing, bundled-up walks, an excuse to drink hot chocolate whenever the mood strikes.” This might explain why Norwegians have lower rates of depression than one would expect, given their extreme climate and long, dark winters.

So if you’re in a koselig-friendly place, try to escape for a few minutes to go someplace cozy, whether a coffee shop or a park you like, and just relax for a few minutes, embracing the coziness. Turn your phone off and don’t think about the election. Just be. One way or the other, all this uncertainty will be over soon.