Around four years ago to the day, I woke up scared and alone in a hospital bed in a strange city.
I grabbed my iPad from the tray table attached to the bed, and started frantically Googling what could happen to healthcare for people with preexisting conditions under Trump.
Because I’m, as I like to say, a walking and talking preexisting condition.
And I was fucking terrified.
For over a year, I’d been going through the worst chronic illness flare-up of my life. (In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have gone on that work trip in the first place.)
By then I had the hospital routine down pat. I knew when to head to the emergency room, and did so frequently enough that I knew what to bring in case I needed to stay awhile (hence the fully charged iPad).
Even with health insurance, I’d already spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past 2 years dealing with chronic illness. Between treating symptoms, emergencies, plus trying to find the underlying diagnoses, that’s not even to mention prescriptions.
I knew that even in the best case scenario, I was going to be spending thousands more. And looking at costs of long-term treatment and management.
But until that moment, I had avoided thinking about the worst case scenario. I had avoided learning the details of what Trump’s healthcare plan had planned for people like me. What it thought of us.
Enter the frantic Googling.
The 2016 election was a wake-up call for a lot of us about a lot of things.
And for me, it was the beginning of a months-long reckoning around my health and self-care.
One that culminated in me leaving a high stress job, taking a sabbatical from all work, and going all-in on my business. Both my physical and mental health were complete shit, and I realized I could be losing a lot of the help I had in managing them.
So after months of ignoring my therapist’s and doctor’s pleas to take better care of myself, I finally started trying.
I finally started accepting that mental health wasn’t just as important as physical health, it’s all part of the same system. That I wasn’t a machine that could be optimized to perfection. That I couldn’t mindset my way out of chronic illness. That to prioritize my health I needed to de-prioritize work.
All of the shifts in outlook I founded Work Brighter to encourage.
Later, I learned I wasn’t the only one having this particular reckoning: there was a huge surge of Google searches for “self-care” that week. (The other big surge was when people saw their families for Thanksgiving. 😬)
And let’s be real: things haven’t been much better, very often, since.
This time around, it was my goal to prepare a little better to deal with the stress of an election.
Not only did I return my absentee ballot earlier and start text banking for progressive organizations earlier, I also started thinking about my mental health earlier.
(“You know what that is? Growth.” 💁🏻♀️)
I brought it up with my therapist a few weeks ago, and we worked on a custom “post-election self-care plan.”
Sharing some snippets of my thought process and ideas below in case you need some ideas for dealing with your own election stress disorder.
Which yes, is a real thing.
But first, the question I know is coming…
Why you need to prioritize self-care right now
Why take the time to make a plan for your own self-care right now? What makes you so important when the world is what it is? Why do you deserve to rest instead of spending all your time working, mobilizing, activating, and trying to make a bigger difference?
Because even though I HATE the “you can’t pour from an empty cup” saying (it’s just so cliche and overused), it’s true (probably why it’s overused lol).
Regardless of how the election turns out, we’re going to be under a barrage of stress for the next few months.
The uniqueness of a pandemic election and the uniqueness of our political moment will ensure that.
And if you want to get through it, if you want to help others get through it, you need to tend to yourself.
It’s completely normal and understandable for this to take a toll on your mental health.
It will also be common for that to take a toll on our physical health.
Self-care is required to maintain and preserve both.
Especially if you plan on doing any organizing or activism.
Resistance is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to keep your fuel tank from hitting empty.
And if you’re holding an identity that the current administration has put under increased threat, this is all even more true.
We deserve to be taken care of. Period.
Ways to Take Care of Your Post-Election Stress
1. Have a therapist? Check your calendar.
First things first: consult the pros.
If you’re lucky enough to have a therapist, make sure you have your November appointments booked. Bring this topic up with them. It was my therapist that gave me the idea to make a plan for myself.
If you think you’ll need it, you can also consider booking a session on high stress days. Like the day after the election or the day the electoral college meets.
2. Set tech boundaries
It’s never a bad idea to spend less time consuming the news and social media. But over the next few months it will be crucial.
If you’ve never taken the time to do so before, set some screen boundaries for yourself.
Also think about how you’ll follow the “rules” you set for yourself.
It’s easier to break one habit if you have another to replace it with. So it can help to know what you’ll do on your devices instead of social media.
The best trick I’ve ever discovered for myself was simply switching Instagram and the Kindle app on my home screen. Thanks to muscle memory, checking Instagram turned into me reading more fiction. For you, maybe it’s a phone game or texting your family.
3. Lighten your workload where possible
First of all, I recognize that this is going to be the most difficult for most of us to do. But it still needs talking about.
Showing up to a Zoom call or trying to write an essay while you’re fighting back tears sucks. It’s the worst.
Personally, I’ve had enough of it for the year already.
So whatever events and projects I do have control over, I’m making as flexible as possible, and expecting both myself and the people I work with to be performing as less mental capacity than usual.
If you can take some days off work, take them. If you can’t, see if you can reschedule any of your meetings. If you have any tasks that will require a lot of mental energy, see if you can swap them with something easier.
(I have a feeling this is the week all. of. my. spreadsheets. will be updated.)
4. Stock up on supplies
I’m not talking about prepping for the apocalypse, although I know and respect that 2020 has turned more people into preppers.
Nope. I want you to make sure you have the basic supplies in your house in case you can’t or don’t feel safe running errands for a bit.
If you’re say, too depressed to get out of bed, I want to make sure you still have a way to get your essentials.
If you live alone, make sure to stock up on things like groceries, toilet paper, and personal hygiene supplies. Or figure out how you can get them without leaving the house. I’ve learned this from experience, you want these on hand BEFORE you get too depressed to move.
5. Create a warm fuzzy file
A few weeks ago in the Work Brighter Weekly, we talked about building warm fuzzy files.
These are literal computer folders of funny memes, videos, and more. I started building my own in Notion after reading SuperBetter earlier this year.
I’m talking links to favorite TV episodes on Netflix.
I’m talking YouTube videos of baby animals.
I’m talking random memes from random subreddits.
I want you to start building a collection like this of links that make you smile or laugh when you really need to do so. Light distractions for when you deserve to be distracted from the world.
6. Find a way to make a difference
Next up, think beyond yourself. Helping others can be a fantastic form of self-care WHEN you have the energy for it. Plus, we saw how much voter pressure, mobilizing, and organizing it took just to get out ballots in this year.
Activism is going to be just as critical for things like ensuring the electoral college process happens as it should.
Find ways to help that fit your time and energetic capacity right now.
That will look different for everyone, especially considering the pandemic. You might not be able to protest or collect supplies, but you can likely use Resistbot to contact your representatives or see what online help your favorite organizations need.
7. Move your body (and take your meds)
Even if you’re not going outside or “working out,” find ways to move your body where you are. This year, many friends have adopted my “one person dance party” workout regimen, and I’m happy to have a few more.
If you’re not in the mood to dance, simply pacing your apartment or standing up while you watch TV for a few minutes before hopping back onto the couch can make you feel a little better.
As you know, I’m all about the baby steps.
I love that my Fitbit will remind me once an hour to stand up, and my knees do too. But an alarm or timer on your phone can work just as well.
8. Lower your expectations
Take everything I have said about pandemic productivity this year and double it. This weekend I learned of a great quote from Darcy Lockman: “Lower the bar. Now, look at that bar, and lower it again.”
It’s NOT easy, but adjusting your expectations of yourself is a skill worth learning.
Especially if you’re overly ambitious or a bit of a workaholic, reading a situation and knowing when you need to be okay with B- work instead of your usual A will save you a lot of anguish.
Hell, also know when the “exam” is just pass fail and you don’t need to do anything more than show up.
Lower your expectations around your work productivity. Your sleep. Your emotional regulation. All of it.
To keep some semblance of a routine, choose one or two keystone habits to prioritize. Mine are going to be journaling and eating a breakfast.
As for the rest of your regular habits, either be okay with being more sporadic with them, or come up with “scaled back” versions of them for days when you don’t have energy for the full thing. For example, I bought face wipes for days I don’t have it in me to wash my face. Since they’re pretty wasteful, I try not to use them often, but I save them for when I need them.
Don’t just push through
I’ve ranted before about the dangers of the “just push through it” mindset. If the rest of 2020 hadn’t already taught you that it’s okay not to push through it, let now be your trial period with going easier on yourself.