Having lived through a number of elections during my lifetime, I have learned what to expect and anticipate in my social environment. I know that there will be more and more advertisements on television with people who have “approved this message.” I know that conversations on the news or talk radio will be focused on polling numbers and issues. I anticipate that some interesting scandal or gossip will be dug up on candidates that will make both the evening news as well as all of the comedy-focused news (after all, who doesn’t love a good Daily Show episode!). I also know that this is a time when people choose to either get very talkative about their candidate or completely withdraw from conversations about politics.
The culture and climate of politics in our country has taken a very interesting tone over the past decade or so. Personal attacks, vitriol, and widely demonstrated bad behavior seem to be the norm. We are bombarded by these messages, and this negativity can take a toll on our lives.
So, how does one stay current about the election while also not spiraling into a dark and negative space? Here are a few helpful suggestions for how to engage in self-care during the election season:
Set boundaries around your news consumption. We are no longer a society that just has the 10:00 pm news reports -- remember those days? Now, our news cycle is 24 hours a day. We can get it on our televisions, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, cable television, Hulu, newsprint, etc. It is everywhere and all the time. Today, it seems like everything is breaking news and everything is an emergency. But, sometimes breaking news is simply code for “We want to get this information out there before people lose interest” or “Let’s get everyone fired up about this issue.” When we are constantly exposed to information that is simply designed to trigger an emotional response, we never let our bodies and minds take a break. So, set boundaries. Limit what you read or watch to a certain amount of time or time of day. I prefer getting my news first thing in the morning - when I wake up, I scroll through the major news sources and/or listen to talk radio during my commute in. That is all. I certainly have alerts on my phone that notify me of an emergency, but it is just the headline that pops up, and I can choose to click or not. I have really taught myself not to click on it (but kept it active just in case).
Read about an issue that you care about in this election. When we choose a book or audiobook, we access information on our own terms. We can still do a deep dive about an issue that we care deeply about -- climate change, income inequality, health care, education, foreign policy -- but do it on our own terms. We can put the book down, make notes in the margin, or pause the audiobook when we need some space to process what we read/heard. Or, we can dive right in and finish the book or audiobook all in one sitting. It’s our choice. Having some control over what you access, for how long, and when can help you digest information and process it rather than just hearing what a politician or pundit has to say.
Develop strategies for disagreement. One of my workshops focuses on building skills for difficult conversations. Because many of us grew up in an era of “don’t talk about that issue … it’s not polite”, we simply have not developed the skills for tough conversations. I always encourage people to have a phrase or two that comes in handy when you need to disagree in a way that doesn’t completely shut down a conversation. One of my favorite lines to use in a disagreement is, “I hear what you are saying about _____. What you just said, however, does not align with my experience. Here is why.” That phrasing helps us to acknowledge the other speaker while also setting up an opportunity to disagree. Disagreement and discourse are so important in our lives, and we often need to build the skill for having these conversations. When a conversation simply cannot go any further, I tend to use this phrasing: “It seems we have come to the point in our conversation where neither of us is going to budge on our ideas or beliefs. Where do you believe that leaves us? What do you think comes next now for us?” That’s one of my favorites because it still highlights that there is a relationship we have even though we disagree.
But, also know when a relationship simply cannot exist or thrive. James Baldwin stated: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and my denial of humanity and right to exist.” I have certainly walked away from relationships that were long-standing because of this. There is often great pain from walking away from these relationships, and yet the pain was greater to stay in it. This is not an easy decision for most, and I don’t put this out there lightly. And yet, what happens when we must constantly defend our humanity? I do believe that part of friendships is disagreeing, having different viewpoints and life experiences. My life is richer because I have friends who do not worship the same as I do; think the same as I do; live the same as I do, or even raise children the same as I do. However, we treat each other with dignity and respect, understanding where our beliefs come from and how they are lived out. I do not believe we benefit from surrounding ourselves with people who only agree with us. But, know what your line is - know where your boundary is for allowing people to deny your humanity.
Name it, own it, interrupt it. I use this phrase often when working with people who feel like the world’s problems are too big to address. When we name what the issue is, understand our personal role in contributing to it, then we can begin to disrupt and interrupt our own behaviors. Sometimes, the best place to start is with ourselves. There are lots of issues in our society that make me angry -- inequality in education, incarceration, racism, and so many more. Those are huge issues that I worry we will never address as a society. That can contribute to feelings of hopelessness. So, I find ways to 1) name what the issue is for me and how I’m feeling about it; 2) own that I play a part in it; and 3) find ways for me to interrupt my role. During the election cycle, we often put our hopes and dreams into one perfect candidate. Spoiler alert: that one perfect candidate probably doesn’t exist. So, what are the areas where I feel motivated or agitated, and how I can get involved even if my candidate doesn’t share the same focus?
I always emphasize that “Hope is not a strategy.” I can’t walk around hoping that this election cycle is going to feel awesome. I can’t hope that the candidates will all veer off course and only run positive campaigns. I can’t hope that the news media will stop putting out breaking news alerts. But, I can be strategic about how I engage.
Set boundaries around your news consumption.
How do you benefit from setting boundaries around your news consumption?
What do you lose when you set boundaries around your news consumption?
What strategies can you put in place to address these?
Read about an issue that you care about in this election.
What is an issue that you care deeply about?
What 3-4 books address this issue?
Of those 3-4 books, what book fits into your lifestyle (e.g., amount of time you have, the way it is written, the approach) that you can read first?
What do you hope to learn?
Develop strategies for disagreement.
Write down 3-4 phrases you can use for when you get into a disagreement related to the election or an important issue. It often helps to follow the format here:
(affirming you heard the speaker)
What it is about their statement that you disagree with
How your idea or disagreement is formed or informed
But, also know when a relationship simply cannot exist or thrive.
Who are the people closest to you that you might consider in this category of “relationships that simply cannot exist or thrive”?
Are these permanent or just during this election cycle?
What do you lose if you are no longer in a relationship?
What do you gain?
What do you notice about your emotions/reactions are you write this list?
Name it, own it, interrupt it.
What are some of the issues you feel most passionately about?
As you name them, what is it about those issues that cause you concern?
As you own it, what is your relationship to the issue? How are you involved in this issue?
As you interrupt it, what is a behavior or thought you might change for that helps you disrupt or dismantle aspects of that issue? What can you do on a personal level that would matter?