Post-Debate Coping Skills
Updated: Jan 30
Hi yes hello. Here we are, one day after the first 2020 presidential debate. If you watched, you might have felt, at any given moment: frustrated, angry, afraid, flabbergasted, exasperated, hopeless, fired up, fed up, doomed, empathy for Chris Wallace, or any number of other emotions.
Personally, my body felt like a bunch of tiny discombobulated particles buzzing around in a thin-walled container. It is a privilege to be stunned, and I felt that privilege strongly last night. Since then, it has been hard to focus on anything else. When I have the remnants of a nonsensical, unproductive debate running through my mind all day, it's somehow challenging for me to feel any level of calmness or to focus on what I need to accomplish throughout the day.
As we take a collective sigh of confusion, I'm here to share some coping skills that can help bring you back to the present moment. If you, like me, are struggling to feel anything but chaotic when you think about the election, I hope this helps.
Find something to do ALL THE WAY
It can be big or small. Examples ranging from smallest to largest await you below this paragraph. I find the more distressed you are, the more it helps to do something bigger to bring you out of it. The good news is, the options are endless and creativity is your only limiter.
Focus intently and nonjudgmentally, on a plant or flower. Try not to attach words to it, but rather to experience it. First just stare at it, trying not to think too much. Take it in slowly. Use all the senses you comfortably can. Listen to the sound its stem makes when you touch it. Smell it - even different parts of it (for instance, if you picked a flower, smell the center of the flower, but also smell the stem where you plucked it). Sense what it feels like to touch it with different parts of your finger (fingertips, the back of your hand, between your fingers...etc.). Then, after you've taken it in for some time, describe it. This part requires thinking about it where the last part was sensing it. Again, this is nonjudgmental. Try to think of words to best describe the smell (since it's nonjudgmental, avoid words like "bad" or "good," and try to be more objective and specific, for example, "sweet, honey-like, fragrant, subtle...etc.") Look at it and describe how it looks - sturdy, flexible, what colors is it? Does it get darker or lighter in some areas? Examine and describe all the sensations you feel comfortable with.
Do something small that requires focus. It could be knitting, cross-stitching, a coloring book, cooking, or anything else along those lines. This requires more physicality and materials on-hand. The key is to do something that requires your focus, not something you can idly do while attending to other tasks or watching TV. Similar to the above, one major key in the success of using this as a coping mechanism is to do it non-judgmentally. This can be beneficial in several ways: It benefits our self-esteem to build mastery in different areas (Please note: that doesn't mean become a master at something! It is more about practicing a new skill); It's something that requires your concentration enough that it should be hard to ruminate over politics or other stressors; In the end, you may have created something that gives you a sense of pride; Getting into a "flow state" of creation is a form of meditation that can be soothing; It can be fun!
Dance as hard as you can to your favorite "pump up" song. My current top three are "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen, "Tightrope" by Janelle Monáe*** (CW: mental health hospital, see more below), and "You Go Down Smooth" by Lake Street Dive. If you struggle to express yourself physically or let yourself loose a little bit, think of this as the "high risk/high reward" option. When I say dance as hard as you can, I mean dance with every ounce of energy you can muster. Sometimes it takes a few songs to get into it and feel warmed up. Other times, you can let loose in a short burst. If you live with someone and are comfortable, maybe have them join in on the fun. If you know the words to the song, lip-sync them, or even belt them out with all your might (while still being considerate of neighbors, lest you end up with more stress than you started)! What's the rule with this one? You probably guessed it: it has to be done non-judgmentally. The purpose of this is not to dance well. It is to give yourself a moment of joy and a full-body experience. If you can commit to it, you will almost definitely set your endorphins a-fluttering and feel a sense of release afterward.
When you're done with whatever coping skill you use, bring the focus of that experience to the next thing you do - whether you work on a paper for school, answer an email, or take a long bath. Try not to split your focus among many tasks. If you find your mind pulled back to politics or other distressing topics repeatedly, remind yourself of the skill you just used in order to re-access that feeling, or even go through the coping activity again. Similar to how working out trains your body, practicing mindfulness trains your brain, and it'll get easier to focus on the present moment the more you practice.
I hope one or all of these can be useful to you as you try to move throughout your day without letting your mind be too drawn back to the debates. Lastly, the purpose of this post is absolutely not to encourage disengaging from civic matters. Please vote, continue to pay attention, and advocate for causes near to your heart. By providing yourself with breaks, you will be better able to intentionally commit to the civic work that matters most to you.
*** I had never seen this music video prior to writing this post. It is incredibly apt in the political climate to which this post refers, in the fact that it is very literally about mental health, and lastly that it is actually about the magic dancing can bring. It's amazing what organic connections we find just by looking. The video is highly worth a watch. However, if you have traumatic experiences associated with a mental health hospital, this video may be triggering. As Monáe describes the song, "'Tightrope' is basically dealing with how in life it's important to keep your balance and not get too high or low about things during the time when you're either being praised or being criticized. Which is something that, as artists, Big Boi and I could both relate to, because there are so many peaks and dips along the journey of just being an artist on the road to success. So we both felt it was important to kinda help those everyday working people who are constantly dealing with life's obstacles, by giving them like a tutorial on how to deal with issues face-on." (Quote via Blues & Soul in 2010)