Today marks the 2020 US election. 😱
Okay, take a deep breath.
Now, as a Canadian company, you may think… well, why are you thinking/writing/worried about the US election?
A couple reasons. First, we deliver a ton of mental health training in the US and have a ton of American clients. Second, personally, I consider the US my second home having lived and worked there. Third, we can’t deny that this is a global moment or reckoning of the kind of world that we want to build.
While that sounds heady, it’s not really. This election has very real consequences for us in Canada, the kinds of behaviour that’s normalized among our leaders, and the validation (or rebuttal) of the worst human impulses.
Feeling anxious yet? If you are (like me), here’s what we can all do today…
Trust our gut
Over the past four years, we’ve been exposed to a firehose of hate, division, fear-mongering, alienation, and cruelty in a way that was previously unfathomable. Many of us have become addicted to staying up to date on each development (see John Mulaney’s bit on comparing the Trump Whitehouse to a horse in a hospital). The emotional scars of the past four years are immense, let alone the anticipation of an election that could make this chapter history.
All of this is to say, there’s no need to feel guilt or shame in how you feel about this election. This anxiety runs deep. So trust whatever you’re feeling — because you’re feeling it with good reason.
Take any action
This kind of nervous-jittery-anxiety is best countered by taking civic action. What kind of action? Well, anything really, so long as you are using that same fire that’s within you right now for good.
Write something on Facebook about how you’re feeling about today. WhatsApp your American friends and ask how tensions are in their community. Use this as an opportunity to reconnect with old peers or friends. Moments of collective anxiety are ripe for reconnection. Take advantage of that.
If you’re hungry for more, shift your focus to what’s local, even if you’re in Canada. Know that crosswalk in your neighbourhood that’s dangerous? Write to your counsellor. Know that provincial proposal that’s frustrating you? Sign a petition. Know that issue you’ve been meaning to learn more about? Dive into it. Action beats inaction. Choosing our focus is an act of control. And when we feel a sense of control, our anxiety can be tamed.
Limit the scrolling and reloading
Refreshing CNN or FiveThirtyEight all day won’t make a difference. Nor will scanning Twitter incessantly. The results will come in as they do (or don’t… looking at you Pennsylvania!). Make a plan to consume coverage in a measured way and stick to it. That means, for example, checking out the news once an hour for five minutes. Later tonight when results start coming in, pick a channel you’ll watch and set a window for when you’ll tune in. Don’t be afraid to break up that CNN time with something funny — like an episode of It’s Me or the Dog.
Find solace in like-minded voices
I’ve found a great deal of comfort in the content from Crooked, the media juggernaut launched by ex-Obama staffers that include podcasts like Pod Save America. On these big nights, they do something called the “Group Thread” where they broadcast their own Slack channel with a feed from MSNBC on YouTube. Their team shares their candid, hilarious reactions to each development in a way that humanizes the profundity of the moment. It’s a great normalizer, reminding us that if you’re outraged, scared, or hopeful that there are millions of people out there just like you. If you’re looking for something lighter, Steven Colbert is doing a long livestream over on Showtime. And if you’re looking for something insightful, The Daily is doing their first-ever live show starting at 4pm EST.
Accept that we’re not done yet
Regardless of what happens, tonight won’t be the end of the past four years or the messes that it’s caused. There will be uncalled races, heightened tensions, and a — at a minimum — a president that won’t be out of office until January. Accept that there’s still a lot to happen beyond this evening — and believe that you have more control over your anxiety than you might think.
And if you need support at any time in the aftermath of tonight, we’re always here for you.
COVID-19 has us all stuck inside and exploring different aspects of our mental health. I thought it would be a good time to suggest books that have helped me develop and ground my knowledge on the diverse topics that impact our emotional and mental health.
Here is a short list of books that have had a major impact on me and taught me to think critically and compassionately:
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.
It Didn’t Start with You: How inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn
Wolynn’s book is an introduction to how family trauma continues across generations. Mark highlights that for many years the medical world has not recognized how serious trauma’s impact is on health, bodies and relationships. Mark grounds his work in modern research and demonstrates that trauma can impact bodies in ways that are beyond our capacity for recognition. The message is that, until we learn to take this insight seriously, we will continue the cycle.
Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life by Allen Frances, M.D.
Frances (the chair of the DSM-5 task force) asks why mental health diagnosis is increasing at such a large rate and considers how Big Pharma is exploiting this market to pathologize normal, everyday challenges. Frances explores the history of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to give the reader an inside perspective of how it has been developed, who is in charge of making changes, and the pressing challenges of diagnosis in the modern age. Frances approaches the DSM 5 with a critical eye and challenges the reader to do the same.
Troubling Masculinity: Reimagining Urban Men edited by Ken Moffatt
Troubling Masculinity explores a variety of ways masculinity might be reimagined in the modern age. The critical thinkers and theorists featured in this work consider issues of race, gender, sexuality, and social class to challenge and “trouble” how we think about masculinity. I believe this book could be an entry point into a discussion about the challenges men face in society and a meaningful exploration of the root causes of toxic masculinity. In this trying time, very few books are offering concrete solutions to the problem of toxicity. This book seeks to evolve masculinity into something to be embraced and nurtured instead of shamed.
A Dialogue on Love by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
When I began reading this book I was having challenges related to grief, identity, and relationships. In this piece, Eve discusses her terminal cancer diagnosis and how she grieves for her body, her family, and her relationships. She incorporates her therapist’s notes, her diary, and keen critical analysis to delve into how identity is formulated beyond the body. This book holds so many crucial ideas that challenge secular spaces to invite in a new spirituality. Sedgwick’s spirituality is grounded in the earth and challenges us to sit with the very real way we intimately hold and impact those around us.
These books have had a major impact on my development as a therapist and I hope they’ll have a positive effect on you, as well.
I am a huge proponent of daily journal writing. Journalling allows us to better process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. It can be a helpful tool in allowing ourselves to get to know what situations trigger us, how we process our thoughts and emotions, and how we might use our creativity to solve difficult problems.
And yes, sometimes writing feels tedious. Or we just have no clue where to start. For those moments, I’d encourage you to try these 6 journal prompts and see where they take you.
1. What’s on my mind right now?
This prompt can allow you to practice mindfulness and awareness of the present moment.
2. What has been going well in my life lately? What has been more difficult? Why?
This prompt motivates us to get more in touch with how situations, relationships, or circumstances in our lives are playing a role in influencing our feelings.
3. What inspires me? Why?
Exploring what inspires us is a helpful tool in determining our values and coming to understand what feels enriching for us.
4. What are 5 things I am grateful for right now?
Gratitude! Practicing a little bit of gratitude can help us feel more positive emotions and relish our experiences.
5. What are 5 ways that I can go out of my comfort zone this year?
There is no better way to grow than by stepping outside of our comfort zones. Experiencing and growing through a new challenge is a great way to boost self-confidence and belief in our abilities.
6. What area of my life needs more love and attention? Why?
This prompt may allow us to recognize where we need to cultivate more care and self-love. It can also be a helpful prompt toward setting small goals to make us healthier and happier.