It should come as no surprise that we’ve spoken to many people, both in and outside of our therapy practice, that are overwhelmed with stress about the 2020 election. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist recently joined a group of health experts to speak with Bloomberg about how people can manage their anxiety about the election through action.
In “You’re Stressing Out About the Election All Wrong,” writer James Tarmy begins by citing an American Psychological Association poll, which indicates that stress levels are rising in the United States. People are understandably frightened about what we’ve seen of America in these past four years and what the election outcome will mean for the country going forward. Matt offers some practical strategies to mitigate stress and fatigue, including taking Wednesday, November 4 off rather than Election Day to eliminate the pressure of going to bed anxious about functioning at work the next day (“If you’re someone who thinks [that combination] is going to mess you up, you need to make room for it”).
But even more, Matt emphasizes that managing stress or fear needs to be predicated on properly locating that fear in what it is. For the 2020 election, the anxiety may be about much more than Biden versus Trump. People are scared. We’ve watched the failure of our public health responses and leadership. We’ve witnessed police brutality and resulting expressions of racial (and also youth-led class) anger. This has also been a period of climate disaster, including the recent fires in the West. Climate change, racism, an under-prepared healthcare system, and inadequate social safety nets are not new problems. For instance, what happened to George Floyd was happening to Black people before Trump came along and has historical roots related to systemic racism, poverty, and white supremacy ingrained in (and in some cases, running) police departments.
Rather than being the cause of our woes, Trump has exposed them and yes, made them worse. What does this mean? We have to do much more than just getting Trump out of office. Voting alone doesn’t ease the anxiety because it isn’t nearly enough. Voting is the absolute baseline obligation of citizenship and is, as Matt notes in Bloomberg, “relatively passive.”
Anxiety is your body’s call to action. It’s telling you that something needs attention. Action is the antidote. Historically, there were outlets for this. Matt explains: “Through most of the millennia of human history, when you were anxious about food storage, you could hunt; when you were anxious about the roof of a cave collapsing, you could find another cave. Anxiety existed to focus attention and produce action.”
So in that spirit, we need to formulate a plan of action that addresses the root of the problems we’re now facing. We have to reconcile racism, make massive changes to our economy to create equity, and save the climate. In a word, the cure for anxiety isn’t voting, it’s ACTivism.