What is it in the air these days? Something is turning sane people crazy, sound sleepers into insomniacs, the perky population sluggish and putting the sluggish population on edge.
It feels as if we’re in a snow globe of stress. Each tweet, each Facebook post sends unwelcome flakes of irritation onto our heads and shoulders and down our increasingly arched backs.
Could this atmospheric plague be … the upcoming election? We put that question to Ross Teemant, director of behavioral health services at Texas Health Resources.
“Life is stressful enough as it is,” he said. “Just add an election year, and that compounds the stress we feel.”
Is 2016 in particular any worse than others? To be honest, he says, all election years are stressful. As far as this one goes, “if we strictly paid attention to the court of public opinion and to social media, the answer would be a resounding yes.”
What else? Here’s what Teemant suggests, plus what those determined not to get caught up in the fray rely on:
Refocus. Direct your emotional energy somewhere other than the election, Teemant says. “Stop. Read a book. Participate in a favorite activity. Read a magazine like Golf Digest about something you like.”
Subscribe to a no-commercial TV site. For Linda Rossi, that’s Hulu.
“I’m watching shows on Hulu because I can’t take all the pundits,” says Rossi, 56, who lives in Richardson. “You can spin any story any way, any direction. It’s all such a subjective thing. It’s mind-boggling, head-spinning.”
Focus on the big-picture positives. Well-documented research shows that expressing gratitude is a helpful tool for stress management, Teemant says. He takes that one step further: Focus a gratitude list around the political environment.
“What are you thankful for?” he asks. “The freedom to vote? The opportunity to live in a free country?”
Yes on all those, Rossi says. So while she tends to walk away when water-cooler chitchat turns to politics, she does hold dear the right to vote.
“I embrace that we live in the United States of America, where the will of the people and democracy prevail,” says Rossi, who is executive director of a nonprofit. “We have freedom and the right to vote. Even if it’s not my personal will, that’s OK because everybody has the same opportunity to cast a ballot.”
Exercise. Go vigorous with cardio or more mindful with yoga (here’s a fun look at some poses). Just do something physical.
Veta McCoy of Dallas is so tired of candidates bashing each other that she wants to hand them boxing gloves and call it a day. Instead, she walks right past the election-saturated TV and heads out the door to exercise.
“I can talk to other people and focus and do a good workout. You’re around people working out and having a good time, and that puts me in a happy-place zone.
“When I get stressed, tension builds up in my neck and shoulder area and I get tightness,” says McCoy, 50. “Let me get into the gym and do something!”
Carlos Bejarano, 39, of Dallas says this election is “definitely different” as far as the stress-inducing aspect goes.
“It has caused a great divide, not only in politics, but in social media where people are either having to unfriend people with opposite views or walk away from social media altogether because the comments are too far out of line,” he writes in an email.
“For me, running is an escape from the negativity that this election has brought. I’m thankful that I run seven miles four days during the work week and up to 18 on the weekends so that I’m distracted from politics.”
At Studio 6 Fitness in Dallas, owner Elizabeth Lindberg says the topic of politics doesn’t come up in class … well, except on a T-shirt, which the studio has sold out of twice.
But, she says, “Working out helps everyone feel stronger to make those hard decisions.”
Stay the course. “Some people have a tendency to drink more when they’re stressed out,” Teemant says, “or to eat more, or not sleep as well because they’re so worried about thoughts they’re having about the elections. They ruminate and get stuck.”
Step away. Karen Deiterman Laughlin of Dallas deleted Facebook from her phone. Michele DeSalme and some friends have made a pact: “Whenever there is a political post that we respond to – bad! bad!” she writes on Facebook, “then we must post a cute pet picture on the More Pets Less Politics Facebook page.”
Rossi finds herself shopping online more than usual. Nothing too extravagant; a recent purchase was a package of six made-in-the-USA organic handkerchiefs.
Show grace to others. Zumba instructor and business owner Ashley Travis, 49, says the tension and stress that adults feel is trickling down to children. With that in mind, she says,
“So I’m slowing down, paying attention to people around me, and trying to lend a hand whenever the opportunity arises, more now than ever. I’m definitely smiling more, and most of all I’m listening instead of talking.”
Do your voting homework. “Fear and anxiety are driven out of lack of understanding, whatever the topic is,” Teemant says. “The more we know about the process, the more we know about the platforms, the better we can feel about our participation in the process and our commitment at the end of the day to support those elected officials beyond the election.”
Vote. Yours is important, even if your co-worker tells you that your vote will cancel out his.
“I tell my employees: Complaining without a solution is just complaining,” Teemant says. “Complaining with a solution is problem-solving.”
Have perspective. Teemant reminds people of a couple of truisms; namely, “ ‘This too shall pass.’ There’s going to be another election. And don’t personalize other individuals’ views. I don’t have to take it personally that someone disagrees with my platform, just like I want them to respect my right to have an opinion or platform.”
Adds Rossi: “We’re electing a four-year person to the presidency. We’re not electing a lifelong person.