Waiting for US Election Day news can be excruciating. A similar agony comes with the wait for results after a medical test, or when you send an email with bad news and fear how the recipient will react. Here are some tips that can help you stay mentally strong while you wait it out.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona.
Gather Supportive Friends
This is the best reason not to swear off social media (besides, of course, the fact that some of us need it for our jobs). Your friends can help you keep your mind in a good place throughout the day, and tools like Social Fixer can reduce the amount of stress-inducing news you have to wade through to talk to them.
One fun strategy is to ask your friends for pictures of cute animals, or for memes that make you laugh. I know a group of people who get through rough days by sending each other the most unflattering selfies they can come up with. This trick is two-pronged: The pictures will make you smile, but you'll also feel better knowing that your buddies took a minute out of their day to help you out.
For the moment when the news is revealed, consider who you'll want to have around. Bring a trusted friend or family member to your doctor's appointment, or plan to call them right after a meeting where you might get some tough news. For Election Day, consider a watch party with like-minded buddies who can celebrate or commiserate with you, as needed.
Meditation Is Always a Good Answer
While a one-day worry isn't the same as chronic anxiety, a lot of the coping tools are the same. Mindfulness meditation can reduce how stressed you feel, and can reduce the amount of time you spend thinking about the things that stress you out, according to the American Psychological Association.
In the long term, a meditation habit can help you temper your emotional reaction to things that upset you. Overall, as a Journal of the American Medical Association review concluded, meditation isn't a magic bullet, but it has a lot of advantages with few to no downsides.
If you're new to meditation, don't worry - there are lots of easy ways to begin. For example, you can take 10 deep breaths and ignore everything besides your own breathing and counting. Or you can take a minute to watch your thoughts go by, and label any emotions that pop up ("Hmm, I'm overwhelmed"). Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm, both available for iOS and Android, can guide you through a meditation session if you're too anxious to decide what to do. Or, if you need help now, just click on the video above for a soothing session.
Take a Quick Exercise Break
Regular exercise can work as well as medication for some people with anxiety. Even in a short-term situation, it can be a great go-to. Set a one-minute timer and do lunges or push-ups until it beeps; chances are, afterwards you'll feel better.
Exercise reduces your body's levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, while increasing endorphins, hormones that help you relax and even feel more optimistic. If you have time for a full workout, consider a run or walk outdoors if the weather is nice.
The rhythm of running can help you mull over your thoughts in a way similar to meditation. If you'd prefer some distance from your thoughts, try a fast-paced interval workout or a challenging lifting session that keeps your brain busy.
Besides the physical changes of exercise, another reason it's a great stress buster is because it's a thing you can do right now. Whether you exercise, and what moves you choose to do, are completely under your control.
Do Something You Can Control
When you're waiting for news on something you can't control, consider doing other things that will give you small victories. A makeover is a cheesy but effective way to accomplish this: Visit the salon, or just pull out your favourite bottle of nail polish. Crafts are perfect, too: Knit a hat, draw a picture, build a birdhouse or bust out that DIY electronics project you've been meaning to get to. You'll take your mind off your worries, and get something to show for it in the end.
After all, part of why you feel so awful is because you seem to be powerless to make yourself feel better. But the one big thing you're worried about isn't the only game in town. Little accomplishments can boost your mood, and give you a great outlet for all your nervous energy. Even cleaning the house works here: You can see the impact of your actions immediately, and by the time you've finished, you've gotten a mini workout and made your home a nicer place to be.
Volunteer and Shift the Focus to Helping Others
If there is volunteer work you can do to help with your problem, so much the better. For example, if you're nervous about an election, that could mean canvassing neighbourhoods or volunteering to help a campaign.
But even for situations that are totally out of your control, consider volunteering just to take the focus off yourself and put it onto others. Most organisations require some sort of training before volunteering in a useful way, but that isn't always a barrier. Go back to that shelter where you used to walk dogs, or mine your junk mail for coupons and go buy some toys to donate.
Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself
On a rough day, it can be easy to forget to do things like eat a healthy lunch or get enough sleep. Make sure to cover those bases, and don't let your anxiety get in the way of beneficial things on your calendar, like a gym session, an important work task or a night out with friends.
Remember that there is a difference between positive and negative coping skills. Binge drinking isn't a healthy way to cope; nor is overeating to the point that you'll regret it, or taking your anger out on others. It's also a bad idea to make big decisions while you're upset.
So, stick to the positive tactics we've covered here, or other things that genuinely help you feel better. Comedian Alyssa Truszkowski told me that she designates five to 10 minutes to allow herself to feel nervous before a show, and then after that the anxiety isn't allowed brain space any more. Worrying is normal, but it doesn't have to take over your life.