Prior to this presidential election, many of us were already stressed, regularly refreshing news sites and worrying about the future. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, 68 percent of U.S. adults reported the election as a significant source of stress in their lives—compared to 52 percent of adults in 2016.
Even though voting is technically over, our stress hasn’t magically dissipated. So, if you woke up upset this morning, know you’re not alone, says Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of the book, “Joy From Fear.”
Indeed, many, including mental health professionals, have been using the term “post-election stress disorder” to describe the lingering anxiety we feel after an election is over—regardless of whether our candidate won. There’s also “election stress disorder,” coined by therapist Steven Stosny in 2016, to describe the increased stress, anxiety, resentment, and restless nights that his clients and others were experiencing before the big day.
While your negative feelings are essentially universal, wallowing in them isn’t healthy or helpful. To lower your stress levels and feel better, try these science-backed strategies.
Tend to your feelings.
According to Manly, your feelings can guide you in selecting your best coping strategy. For example, if you’re feeling angry or irritable, take a walk or try a challenging yoga class to release the tension. If you’re feeling devastated, turn to your journal or talk with a friend.
It’s also helpful to make a list of general self-care activities that are meaningful and fulfilling to you, like watching an inspiring documentary or spending time with your favorite people, says Kirsten Brunner, LPC, a therapist and relationship expert.
Address stress-boosting habits.
Get honest with yourself about the behaviors that are making you feel worse. Either reduce their frequency or replace them with a soothing activity. For example, if you’re constantly scanning headlines, strive to check one news source for 10 minutes after your morning routine. If your Facebook feed is triggering anxiety or anger, delete the app from your phone, and instead read a book or listen to a calming meditation anytime you yearn to log in.
Turn to nature.
According to research, being in nature boosts our well-being, reduces rumination and stress, and can even lead to greater generosity and willingness to help—and, as Brunner says, in nature, “there are no politics or elections.”
To enjoy nature’s powerful benefits, visit the park, beach, or botanical garden, or simply walk outside and stare at the sky. Incorporate natural activities into your week: One study published in the journal “Scientific Reports” found that spending 120 minutes in nature in seven days was linked to improved health and well-being.
Take positive action.
Trying to stop a ruminating mind packed with worries and what-ifs can seem impossible. While challenging the validity of your thoughts and creating positive ones can help, what’s often more effective is to channel those fears into productive activities.
This could be baking bread for a friend, sending a thoughtful card to a loved one, or volunteering for a meaningful cause, says Manly.
Refocus on your purpose.
While this might not be something you do today or even a week from now, refocus your energy into thoughtfully reflecting on how you’d like to engage with yourself, others, and the world. You can even create a personal mission statement—“I choose to act in respectful ways and be a force of peaceful strength”—and place it around your home. This serves as a daily reminder of how you choose to be, “despite any undesired outcome,” says Manly.
Seek to understand.
Instead of seeing politics through a black-or-white lens—assuming your side is right and good and their side is bad and wrong—seek to understand someone’s perspective and learn their backstory, adds Brunner.
Listening to others doesn’t require revising your own beliefs—and you can still set healthy boundaries. For example, if a relative routinely gets angry, you could say: “I don’t discuss politics at family gatherings; let’s chat about something else that’s important to you.” For loved ones who are flexible and respectful, says Manly, you might say: “I’m happy to talk politics and am curious about your beliefs. Let’s have a judgment-free conversation.”
While this is no doubt a difficult time, remind yourself that just as in other challenging moments, you will get through this, Brunner says. According to Manly, our power rests in effecting change within ourselves—let’s begin by being kind to ourselves and those around us.