We asked Mental Health America’s Theresa Nguyen: How can we possibly go to bed on the night of such a consequential election?
It’s almost the night of The Most Important Election of Our Lifetime. But no matter the outcome, the following day will be a regular workday—at least for those Americans lucky enough to still be employed. It’s not a half-day or anything like that.
Heck, most Americans don’t even get time off work to vote.
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There’s a lot at stake in this election. One side feels we’ll become a full-blown dictatorship if the president is reelected. The other side worries we’ll become a socialist nation—one in which the taxpayers fund everything for everybody, from health care to a college education.
Couple that with anxiety over mail slowdowns (Will my vote arrive on time?) and COVID fears making some of us too nervous to vote in person, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a sleepless night.
If the past four years have seemed like an eternity, Election Night may feel like eternity plus infinity. We may not know the outcome before we drift off to a fitful sleep, with the eerie light of the TV still on. We may nod off without knowing if we’re saved or doomed.
We may not even know the outcome the next day. Or days. We’ve already been warned that counting mail-in ballots will delay the final tally.
But having a plan will help, said Theresa Nguyen, a licensed clinical social worker and chief program officer and vice president of research and innovation at Alexandria, Virginia-based Mental Health America (MHA).
We spoke with her about how to deal with election anxiety on the Big Night.
COURIER: Election returns may be a roller coaster this year. If people are already feeling election fatigue, is watching the returns just going to add stress?
Theresa Nguyen: Not necessarily. I think the best practice is to listen to your body. Is your heart rate increasing? Are you tense? Evaluate yourself; listen to what your mind and body are telling you you need.
How can someone tell what they need?
It varies; we’re all different. For one person, screaming at the TV may be exhilarating, and for another, it’s stressful. If it’s stressful, you can choose not to watch. Or find a person in your family—who’s on the same side of the fence—to watch with you. Create a sense of community. That’s so important now.
Nov. 3 could be a very long night—especially for those of us who already have sleep issues. How can we get to sleep on the night of such a consequential election?
Plan ahead. Decide what time you’re going to bed—how late are you willing to stay up?—and stick to that. It’s about controlling what you can.
We’ve been told to limit our news intake because it’s all so unsettling. Is Election Night a good night to go on a news diet? Or a complete fast? What if election results aren’t known for days? Or weeks?
Elections—presidential and local ones—are important. Now is the most important time to be informed. Focus on the action you can take—voting. After you cast your vote, you’re sort of on a wing and a prayer, right?
It doesn’t mean you’re a bad citizen if you watch a little bit of the election returns and then call it a night. There’s so much that’s out of our hands right now. You can control what time you go to bed and how much news you consume.
It feels, to both sides, like the world’s going to end if the other guy wins. Beyond Election Night, how can we live with the outcome if we’re not happy with it?
That’s a tough question. There is so much polarization now. Focusing on the divisiveness can become addicting. You have to walk away from it. Compartmentalize.
COVID is not going away, so we’ll still need to focus on keeping ourselves and our families safe. I’m going to look inward and focus on my children and my husband—the things that really matter. I’m going to hyper-focus on the here and now. At the beginning of the pandemic, we all told ourselves we were going to use the time to focus on those things. But have we?
What will you do on Election Night?
We discussed it in my family. We’re going to check in here and there, but try not to become consumed by it. I thought I might not look at anything at all until the next morning, although I’m sure I’ll be compelled to take peeks. I’ve heard other people say they’re doing the same, and I think this is an absolutely understandable choice given the level of anxiety and the lack of control over the situation.