This year we have experienced high levels of uncertainty and anxiety due to the pandemic, financial struggles, social justice issues, and our children are challenged with new ways of learning. The U.S. election has added yet another layer of stress. 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.
However, even though the voting is over, our stress hasn’t magically disappeared — it is actually amplified. We are expecting to feel better but the compounded stress from the election remains. Many of us still feel under siege and it’s taking a serious toll on our wellbeing.
It’s not merely the election or the pandemic that causes stress, it’s our emotional reactions to the news that causes stress. Negativity and negative emotions are a big drain on our focus and sabotage our brains’ ability to solve problems and ignore distractions. Stress muddies our thinking, impairs judgment, damages health and relationships, and causes people to burn out and quit their job.
The science is clear: we can learn to control our thoughts which drive our feelings and then our behavior.
Challenge the validity of your thoughts
Worst-Case Thinking is a thinking trap in which one event sparks a thought chain of progressively dire and unlikely consequences, culminating in the worst possible outcome. Assessing the probability of the worst-case scenario interrupts this cycle, giving you a clearer perspective and keeping you grounded in reality.
Gain Emotion Control with A Positive Action
Get honest with yourself about the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are making you feel worse. Either work to 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.
Exercise Realistic Optimism: Refocus on your and the team’s purpose
Realistic optimism along with a focus on our purpose helps us face challenges and know that we can move forward and get through them. While this might not be something you do today or even a week from now, refocus yourself, your team, on how to recommit energy and engage with co-workers, customers, community and the world.
Mindfulness helps to control negative feelings and is an effective tool in the resilience-building toolkit as it cultivates awareness and focus that allows us to frame and adapt our thinking and actions. It helps people gain awareness and perspective, which is the first step to becoming adaptive and resilient. Thousands of scientific studies of brain neuroplasticity show that mindfulness training helps change the way you think about and respond to stressful situations.
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. Listening to others doesn’t require revising your own beliefs—and you can still set healthy boundaries.
While this is no doubt a difficult time, remind yourself that just as in other challenging moments, you will get through this. Our power rests in effecting change within ourselves—begin by being kind to yourself and those around you. Anything you can do to help people cope, care for themselves, and learn to control what they can control, is valuable.
About the author
Andrew Shatte’, PhD., is Chief Knowledge Officer and co-founder of digital resilience platform meQuiibrium. Dr. Shatte’ was one of the founding researchers behind the science of resilience at University of Pennsylvania and co-authored two books about resilience and stress management. He is a psychologist and research professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona, and a Brookings Institution fellow. Andrew has spent more than 20 years researching resilience and has established resilience programs that are operating around the world. Andrew’s work has improved productivity and performance at organizations ranging from NASA to Fortune 100 companies.