This year’s presidential election is affecting just about everyone. It’s causing so much stress, arguments, and overall negativity, that we couldn’t even get any nurses to go on record with tips on how they remain less stressed in this crazed political time and help their patients remain so as well. Many were concerned that if they gave their opinions—even about how to help others—that because it had to do with politics, they may be reprimanded or even possibly lose their jobs.
That says a lot. Most nurses love to help other nurses. But in this case, the fear was tangible.
Instead, we contacted professionals in the mental health field to get their advice on what you can do to reduce your stress in this final week before the presidential election and how to keep it reduced after it’s over.
Use the Oxygen Mask First
If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you know that the flight attendant always instructs people that in case of an emergency, to put your own oxygen mask on first. You won’t be any good to others, if you can’t breathe yourself.
The same case applies with lowering your stress. “In ‘helping’ professions, it is common for providers to ignore their own needs. Focusing on self-care, though, is critical during high-stress times like election season,” says Lisa Long, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, executive coach, and interventionist as well as owner of a private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Taking a personal inventory of one’s stress level and well-being is a good start. Paying attention to yourself is a major aspect of doing and feeling your best. If you notice changes in yourself and how you are feeling, make the time to get connected with people you can talk to. Keep a list of things that make you feel relaxed, and make time to do at least one—even when you feel you have the least amount of time for it. Listen to your own body and needs—just like you do with your patients.”
Laura Dzurec, PhD, PHMCNS-BC, ANEF, FAAN, a dean and professor of the Widener University School of Nursing in Chester, Pennsylvania, says that recognizing that an individual, emotional response is not going to change the election is an important first step in lowering your stress. “The stresses accompanying the debates, deliberations, discussions, and arguments surrounding the presidential election have encouraged emotional responses,” she explains. “One important tip to use in lowering stress is to pay attention to personal responses. Are they defensive? Angry? Anxious? By backing away from pointless debates and thinking through responses that are immediate, nurses can lower their own stresses regarding what’s happening with the election.”
Tips To Help You Reduce Your Stress
Let’s face it—although we’ll get some relief after Election Day, there will still be fallout for some time no matter which candidate wins. Now that you have been reminded to take care of yourself first, what can you do?
“Humor is a fantastic coping strategy when it comes to situations that seem out of our control. Think of all the political parodies at the current time. Turning to humor helps reduce the experience of stress,” says Marni Amsellem, PhD, a licensed psychologist with a private practice specializing in health psychology. “Another great strategy—regardless of the stressor—is trying to tune out or take some time away from the stressor. For example, if the negativity of the conversation happening around you is becoming overwhelming, temporarily remove yourself from the situation, turn off the TV, take a social media holiday, and the like.”
One of the easiest things you can do is just breathe. “My tip for all nurses is to set the alarms on their watches or cell phones to remind themselves several times per day to perform two activities—breathe and practice mindfulness. Three nice deep breaths several times a day can do a world of good to clear the mind and refresh the body. As for mindfulness, take a few seconds, clearing the mind of all thoughts except for noticing the temperature in the room and being mindful of all safely and calmness,” recommends Mary Berst, PhD, the associate program director of Sovereign Health Group in Palm Desert, California.
Amy Oestreicher, a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, health advocate, and speaker for TEDx and RAINN, suggests deep breathing as well and agrees that humor works. “Humor creates a common language the breaks barriers,” she explains.
Oestreicher also suggests that nurses try a couple styles of management with themselves, two of which are Active Management and Calming Management. With Active Management, she says, you take all of the energy that’s fueling that stress and use it—exercise, run, shout, or scream. Do whatever makes you feel better.
With Calming Management, you do just that—take actions that will work to keep you calm. That might be breathing deeply, meditating, getting a massage, or even taking a warm bath.
Finally, A.J. Marsden, PhD, a former Army surgical nurse and current assistant professor of psychology and human services at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, suggests that nurses encourage optimism and refute negative thoughts. “Smile! Research shows that people who smile really will feel better,” says Marsden. “Focus on all of the good work you’re doing. When we feel that our work is making a positive difference and an impact on the world, we feel more positive and happier.”