Electing Sanity: How to hold your center during the ugliest presidential campaign in history

There’s less than seven weeks to go until the presidential election, and with every passing day, the most divisive, racially charged and scandal-laden political campaign in modern history only gets uglier: louder and nastier rhetoric, violence at campaign rallies, incessant repetition of contradictory statements and accusations, releases of polling data that alarm voters on all sides, and apocalyptic scenarios proffered on all foreseeable outcomes.

It’s a frenzy of disturbing data being shipped to the American media consumer 24/7, through all possible means: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, online news sites, social media, robocalls, mass texting, yard signs, billboards and bumperstickers.

img_0215No matter where your politics lie — admittedly, mine are in utter opposition to the vile idea of a Trump presidency — exposure to the intensifying media onslaught passing as “coverage” of the national campaign may easily result in feelings of distress: anxiety, depression, existential crisis and/or triggered historical traumas.

As a former journalist, now a psychotherapist who repeatedly hears the sighs and fears of clients concerned about the outcome of this election, I’ve been astounded by the twisted and course nature of our national dialogue, how unfiltered and raw it has become.

First and foremost, I hold my former colleagues in journalism — or, rather, their corporate, ratings-driven masters — responsible for how this is playing out. Long gone are the days of the 24-hour news cycle, in which journalists had time to gather a multitude of facts and perspectives before filing their reports, a process that created greater context and enhanced accuracy.

Ethical, responsible journalism is being replaced by instantaneous coverage, live-streaming and tweeting — not to mention reporting that cites only the tweets themselves, as if these represent interviews with the candidates — in what’s become an all-out gambit to provide the first, or the most outrageous, coverage of whatever inane commentary falls from the mouths of the candidates or their so-called surrogates. Overt lies and unfounded conspiracy theories are consistently being published and aired — lather, rinse, repeat — without the slightest bit of truth-checking.

So if we can’t stop the momentum that has captured the media this year, the question becomes: How does one become, or remain, an engaged and educated member of the electorate without succumbing to the madness and losing one’s center in the process?

So I start with acknowledgment that the rest of us, the weary and wary voters, must first get beyond the toxic and deluded environment created by our media sources if we want to stay above the fray. We must elect ourselves president of our own self-care club. To that end, I offer the following:

Voter Self-Care Practices

  • Limit Your Exposure. Even though the news cycle has accelerated to the length of time it takes to refresh and reload a website, it’s not necessary to follow everything being offered. Over the course of a week, it’s easy to see the recycled nature of news content: breaking news quickly gives way to updates, follow-ups, he-said/she-said tit-for-tats, commentary and op-ed. As a voter, you are unlikely to be harmed by limiting your intake of news on any subject, but especially this political campaign, to less than 20 minutes a day or an hour per week. Even a scan of headlines can provide a sense of what’s happening. Rest assured that if something truly important occurs — an outbreak of plague or World War III — you will know about it. Truly important news always spreads word of mouth.
  • Choose your sources wisely. There has long been a partisan bias in media outlets, and the conflicting perspectives they promote can create confusion, anger and disenfranchisement in the general public. In the US, the publicly funded NPR and PBS Newshour tend to provide more balanced coverage of the issues than do the ratings-mad corporate media conglomerates with which most “local” news outlets are affiliated. But it’s English-language international news that may give us the best perspective on how our candidates are viewed and how the US is regarded as a global citizen. The BBC, the Guardian and the Financial Times provide a well-rounded collection of sources.
  • Tune out completely. If you’ve already made up your mind who gets your vote and nothing’s going to change it — and if, further, the election coverage is driving you batty — then stop torturing yourself. Don’t watch, don’t read, don’t pursue; just cast your vote when the time comes. (In Oregon, which votes by mail, ballots must be returned to your local elections office or a ballot collection box by 8 p.m. on November 8. November 2 is the suggested deadline if you mail it.)
  • Get involved. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness increase most when we don’t feel we have the ability to shape the outcome of events. If you’re concerned about your candidate’s chances, volunteer to help their campaign. Attend rallies; assist in fund-raising; talk to your friends, family, neighbors; express your views, in a reasoned and logical manner, on social media or whatever platform works for you.
  • Spend more time in meaningful connection. Although the election dominates the news and much social discourse right now, it’s only temporary. Real-life relationships, however, are usually far more enduring and more worthy of our time and attention. By limiting your exposure or tuning out completely, you may find more time in your day to lavish on those you love. Turn off the computer, silence your cell phone and make a connection with one of your “facebook friends” in the flesh. Meet for coffee. Watch the baseball playoffs or a football game. Cook dinner together with the TV off and talk about dreams and aspirations. Read poetry. Make love. Dance!
  • Spend time in nature. Hikes in the woods, picnics in the park, sunsets and stargazing, watching the leaves change colors: Getting out of doors and into nature can be grounding. This is the real world, after all. Not the abstract and imaginary place of “the future” that is the focus of campaign politicking. Nature tends to be more restful to the mind. Go ahead and give it a break.
  • Take time to ground and center every day. Even just five minutes spent focusing only on the sound and path of your breath can radically shift the state of your mind from harried and distracted to calm and focused. Quiet, relaxation-oriented yoga practices — of which numerous free guided sessions are available on youtube (query: “restorative” or “yin” yoga) — can aid tremendously in relieving tension, focusing the mind and taking a step away from the insanity of this campaign season. Breathe deep and breathe often. Learning to work with your breath and evoke its ability to soothe your body-mind will do far more for your quality of life than ANY presidential candidate can ever dream of promising you.

So: These are suggestions for helping yourself. What you can do for your country is to learn about the candidates’ platforms — their individual websites tend to gather this information in one convenient place — and then vote your conscience. By all means, vote!

And remember: No matter how divisive this election gets, the vast majority of your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues — as well as the random drivers on the road who sport the opposition’s bumpersticker — love this country and hold the best of intentions with their vote. We must avoid falling under the spell of the media narratives that would persuade us to the contrary. No matter your views on Hillary Clinton, she is right in suggesting we are stronger together.

Tamara Webb, LPC, LMHC, is a psychotherapist and writer in Portland, Oregon. Email her at tamara@fivebodiescounseling.com.

Photography by Marlene Andrejco.

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