5 Ways Mindfulness Can Help You Keep Your Cool on Election Day

Photo by  Trent Yarnell  on  Unsplash

by WITHIN Cofounder Hannah Knapp

Elections can be such a stressful time. Voting somehow brings out the very worst in us as human beings. We temporarily forget that we're all in this together, and become obsessed with the differences between us.

Perhaps inspired by the mud-slinging among politicians running for office, we say vicious things about people and issues that we would never bring up, let alone get passionate about, under normal circumstances.

And yet, all of us voting wisely in elections is a crucial part of keeping this democracy going. Particularly for those of us in California, this is a critical election, and a confusing one. There are so many candidates for so many offices - how can you begin to tell who will be a wise choice? How can you prioritize which hot-button issues are the absolute most important, when everything seems important to tackle at once?

And if it does seem clear who to choose, or which measures to vote for/against, you immediately, naturally, slip into making yourself right for the choice you've made, and everyone who voted differently wrong for the choice they've made. When people close to you fall into that category, things get tense and awkward at best, and downright nasty at worst.

The good news is that there's a way to save yourself from this quagmire - and it's not by sticking your head in the sand, and avoiding the election altogether. You can vote, engage with people you love, and stay steady through it all.

Just apply these simple mindfulness techniques to respond the way you wish you could to election day anger and anxiety:

1) Take 3 Deep Breaths. When you feel the tide of anger or anxiety rising inside you, just take three deep breaths: breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and out for a count of four, three times. Doing this activates your parasympathetic nervous system, sending the message back to your fight-flight-freeze stress response center that everything is fine.

You reverse-engineer calming down: by breathing slowly and deeply, you begin relaxing physically, and your brain realizes it no longer needs to be freaking out.

2) Pause Before You Speak. When somebody says something that riles you up, pause before you open your mouth to respond. Simple, right? And incredibly difficult to do in the heat of the moment. So, use the STOP method to help you:

  • S - Stop when you can feel yourself getting riled up, rather than jumping right in with that witty - or nasty - comeback.

  • T - Take a breath. This helps you calm down, and slow down.

  • O - Observe what's going on in your body.

This is the key part: if you stay in your head, you'll stay upset. If you shift your focus to noticing how being upset feels in your body, you'll stop the vicious cycle of your thoughts.

  • P - Proceed with a clearer mind. Now that you've checked in with your body and unhooked from those wild thoughts, you can respond much more thoughtfully, kindly or politely to the aggravating situation (or person).

3) Let Generosity Be Your Guide. When you're deciding who and what to vote for, some choices may be easy, and others so confusing you don't even want to face them.

As you're staring down your voter guide, one way to help yourself decide is to ask: what is the most generous choice for everyone involved, including me?

When you let generosity be your guide, you remember that your life is entwined with that of everyone else around you - in your neighborhood, your city, your county, your state. Making a generous choice doesn't mean putting your own needs aside: it means taking them into account, along with what would benefit everyone else. Just that little step out of your usual bubble can help clarify the issue at hand.

4) Take Time Out to Meditate. With so much information and so many opinions coming at you - through social media, the news, friends, relatives, and even the mail - it's easy to get overwhelmed. Give yourself the gift of a "time out."

Just 5 minutes of meditation each day can help you replenish yourself.

Punctuate that regular routine with a 30- or 45-minute meditation class with us at WITHIN, and really reset your system. You'll find it much easier to respond well and think clearly when you've taken that time for yourself.

5) Remember, You Always Have Options. Often, we get upset when we believe we're stuck, and have no options. We spend a lot of energy resisting what's going on, and that quickly leads to anger or despair. Here's an alternative mindset that's much more helpful:

In any situation or conversation, you always have three options: you can leave; you can take action; or you can accept the situation completely. 

Doing any of those releases you from the need to be right, or to make the other person wrong. With those options in mind, you have everything you need to respond wisely in the toughest of situations.

You can't determine who or what will win on election day, or what the people in your life will do or say - but you can always choose how you'll respond. That's the power of mindfulness. It gives you that little bit of distance between yourself and your thoughts, so you can engage fully with the world - even during the intensity of an election.

What mindsets or techniques do you use to handle the emotional roller coaster of politics and elections? Tell us in the comments below!