Political Issues

How To Cope With the Anxiety of Watching Election Results Alone, According to a Psychologist

Erin Bunch

Photo: Getty Images/Eclipse Images

No matter how you hope the presidential election shakes out, it’s very likely that election night and the days (and perhaps even weeks) that follow may be tense in a way that impacts mental health—which is in line with the anxiety-spiking effects of whole election season. And given that this high-tension race is taking place as COVID-19 cases reach an all-time high in the U.S., it’s to be expected that many will experience the history-making, terrifying roller-coaster in quarantine, alone on election night. I’m one of those people, and I’m riddled with anticipatory anxiety from just thinking about it.

Part of me just wants to close my eyes before numbers start funneling in on election night by calling it a day at 3 p.m. But, before I resort to sleeping through what I think might be a living nightmare, I sought professional advice for dealing with the inevitable overwhelm of 2020’s election night alone. With their help, it may be a bit more palatable.

8 tips for coping with the anxiety of being alone on election night.

1. Expect to feel not great so those emotions don’t surprise you

Even the most skilled in mindfulness and other forms of meditation among us should not expect to feel the most Zen on Tuesday, so clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, says it’s important to manage expectations around the unpleasant emotions you’re likely to experience. “You’re probably going to feel some anxiety or anger, so work on keeping it productive and manageable instead of shooting for unrealistic goals,” she says.

2. Make a low(er)-stress media plan

Sometimes, the tone of the news can negatively impact our psyche more than the news itself, says clinical psychologist Carla Manly, PhD. So, choose the least-sensationalized media voice you trust as your destination for election coverage—and maybe stay off of Twitter, where hot takes are rife.

Dr. Daramus agrees and recommends you ask yourself several questions to help you make an intentional media plan for taking in the news while safeguarding your mental health, especially if you’re alone on election night: “When and for what purpose will you be online? What information do you need? What’s your best online option for finding support and avoiding toxicity? Do you need to mute or block anyone, at least temporarily?

3. Spend the evening helping others

Dr. Daramus suggests you look for ways to help others on Election Day and night to keep your mind off the results themselves. This can also help to keep you connected to others during the stressful time if you’re alone on election night.

If you’re comfortable being in contact with others, you could drive neighbors and friends to their polling places, for example, or even offer to keep them company in line. If you don’t feel comfortable with in-person contact (which is understandable!), delivering comforting baskets of homemade goodies to your equally anxious friends’ doorsteps is a great way to stay busy. Then, call your friends to enjoy the treats together and chat.

4. Examine your urges

“If you have an urge to do something self-destructive, like drink too much or get into toxic arguments, look deeper into that urge instead of indulging it,” says Dr. Daramus. “Beneath that urge is there a need for comfort, hope, or progress, for example? Try to find healthier ways to respect the real need beneath the urge.”

5. Do something

Both psychologists say the best strategy to counteract the anxiety associated with being alone on election night is to take action. “The vast majority of worrisome thoughts have no productive value and, instead, lead to emotional and mental exhaustion,” says Dr. Manly. “Rather than getting mired in anxious thoughts, it’s far more helpful to channel that same energy into peaceful protests, volunteer activities, or community activism—actions that actually make a valuable difference in the short term and long term.”

“Rather than getting mired in anxious thoughts, it’s far more helpful to channel that same energy into peaceful protests, volunteer activities, or community activism.” —clinical psychologist Carla Manly, PhD

Since there may not be a whole lot you can do to this end while watching results, Dr. Daramus recommends focusing on one small thing you can do that will make you feel like you have some control. “Research options for influencing policy or organizations in your area that are involved in issues you’re worried about, for example,” she says. Then, in the days following the election—no matter the results—you can make a plan for how to get involved.

6. Keep your self-care tools on standby

Hopefully you have a few self-care tools in your toolbox that you can lean on to get you through the night and days that follow. “Journaling, meditating, and soothing yoga stretches can be very helpful, especially for those who are alone due to COVID restrictions,” says Dr. Manly. Relaxing scents like lavender can help, too, she adds.

It’s also important to not wait until your stress or anxiety levels peak to take action, adds Dr. Daramus. “On a scale of one to 10, start using your coping skills by number four or five, not seven or eight,” she says.

7. Phone a (likeminded) friend

If you can’t watch results with someone in person, you could also opt for a video-chat hangout—and good, old-fashioned phone calls work, too. “It can also be helpful to chat with trusted friends and family about political concerns, but limit such discussion to those who are like-minded and non-inflammatory,” says Dr. Manly.

8. Keep a certain old adage in mind

You don’t have to be religious to keep the “serenity prayer” top of mind on Tuesday night: “God [or whomever!] grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” As Dr. Manly points out, once Tuesday night rolls around and we’ve cast our votes, there’s literally nothing we can do to control what happens next. “What we do have control over is our ability to engage in positive, peaceful thoughts and behaviors that improve our lives, our communities, and—ultimately—the world,” she says.

So while spending the night hyperventilating or sobbing is totally understandable if the election doesn’t go the way you hope (or you’re just overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all), you would be wise to let yourself rest knowing that no amount of worrying that night will change the outcome. And that way, you can hit the ground running on November 4, doing whatever needs to be done next to build the future you want for your country.

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