Sickening politics…and 6 steps to urgent self-care

Maybe you’re angry. Maybe you’re anxious. Maybe you’re feeling hopeless or just terribly sad. Whatever reactions this strange election is sparking in you, don’t let them wreck your health. Here’s a positive way to cope.

You probably know that prolonged stress can make you physically sick–raising your blood pressure, accelerating your heart rate, impeding your sleep, and inviting serious disease. Modern medicine has affirmed these effects for years.

But do your feelings about the election qualify as prolonged stress? Probably.

It’s been about 17 months since the top two nominees officially announced their candidacies—and they essentially began campaigning months before that. So roughly, most of us have lived through two years of arguments, accusations and nearly inescapable negativity.

That’s enough stress to make almost anyone sick—quite literally. (It’s also unhealthy for careers, productivity, and all of our relationships.)

So what can you do when your stress triggers (e.g., drive-time ads, snarky comments, snarling arguments) hit? Here are some positive, healthy, sanity-preserving steps you can take.

Quick Remedies for Election Stress. You can do these things whenever you feel your body and mind tensing up. Use them in sequence (which takes about 5 minutes) or individually. (But if you do them individually, always start with step 1)

Step 1. Acknowledge that you are upset without judging yourself. Notice how that feels in your body. Do certain muscles tighten? Does your stomach lurch?

Step 2. Rest your tongue in the bottom of your mouth. Close your eyes. Count your next five breath cycles, starting with an exhale. Breathe in and out completely, but not forcefully. Notice any changes in how you feel, no matter how small.

Step 3: If standing, press your feet into the floor. If seated, also allow your body to sink into the chair. Register the physical feeling of your body being supported. Release tight muscles and relax your body.

Step 4: Let your arms hang loosely, noticing how your shoulders drop and your elbows relax.

Step 5: Consider how your body occupies the space around it. Ask yourself:

* Can I imagine the interior of my body filled with space?

* Can I spot 3 items in the space around me? If I relax my eye muscles, does my peripheral vision expand? Does the space around me seem larger?

Step 6: Return your awareness to how your body feels and count your next five breath cycles, starting with an exhale.  Let your eyes wander.

These 6 steps, based on medically proven Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) principles, should help you get through the next few days at work and at home.

Let us know how they work—and what works for you.

Next week, we’ll tackle post-election stress issues.

Here’s to your health!