A neuroscientist’s guide to managing election stress

A neuroscientist’s guide to managing election stress

With less than a week until the election, stress levels are at all time high. Election drama on the news and social media is mounting into a full fever pitch and leaving most of us on our last nerve. 

It is vital that each and every one of us have the control we need to keep our heads straight right now. With this in mind, Dr. Dave, board certified psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and co-founder of Apollo Neuro, created a stress busting guide so you can take action now and anytime chronic stress starts to mount.

Taking a 15-minute break is a game-changer

Anxiety is a signal that we’re thinking about something that we don’t have control over, but we have control over our most important resource, our attention. When you’re feeling stressed out, taking a 15-minute break for an activity that shifts our focus is a gamechanger. This could be meditation, physical activity, deep breathing, or sharing something funny with a friend. Meditation is particularly effective as it helps reframe negative thought loops and helps replace our stress response with a relaxation response.

Muting notifications puts you back in control

Constant notifications distract us and trigger our nervous system into fight-or-flight mode, spiking our cortisol, disrupting our sleep, and making us feel run down and depleted. We’re not biologically wired to maintain the level of stimulation demanded to consume social media, television, and news at the rate that we do. When we don’t take the time to address this imbalance, we can end up in a vicious cycle of incessant negative thoughts and burnout. 

Our pings are at an all-time high. Mute notifications on devices — this way, when we’re able to find that ever-elusive flow state, it won’t be broken by stress-inducing pings. Another good tactic is to set time limits using our phone’s settings to cut us off when we’ve reached our quota for social media or news sites.

Breathe in and breathe out

Deep breathing is a powerful way to trigger safety in our nervous system and fight stress. Slow mindful breathing has incredible benefits for our bodies and minds. It can help us fall asleep faster, focus better, and take control over your heart rate.

Try this deep breathing exercise:

  1. Purse your lips as if you are whistling, but without making a sound.
  2. Breathe in through your mouth; notice that by moving your lips very slightly and gently, you can change the speed and amount of air moving into your mouth and lungs.
  3. Feel the air moving in and out of your whole body: lips, throat, windpipe, lungs, and repeat.
  4. Remember it’s best to try to exhale at least a little bit longer than you inhale.

Another great breathing exercise is box breathing:

  1. Inhale through your nose into the belly for a count of four
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four (release muscles when holding breath)
  3. Exhale through your nose for a count of four
  4. Hold your breath for a count of four
  5. Repeat four rounds

Move your body

Regular exercise is important for stress relief. Physical activity can help us sleep better and feel better. So go take a walk, go for a swim, clean your house, dance, move your way. Ten minutes of dancing could be the ultimate stress-buster. Moving our bodies helps us let go of the energy we have when we’re under stress and gives us gratitude for all the things our body can do..

Log those zzz’s

Sleep is the single most important thing that we can do to recover from stress. When we get regular sleep, we notice that we feel better during the day, get sick less often, have more energy and are in a better mood. 

Solid sleep begins way before our head hits the pillow. Avoid stimulants — including caffeine AND overly stimulating news. Replace fixating on news coverage before bed with a meaningful activity like reading a book or connecting with a loved one. A bath sounds nice, too.

Put Apollo to work

Use Apollo to recover from stress during the day and to improve sleep. Apollo’s gentle waves of vibration signal safety to the body and mind and activate the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) branch of your nervous system, just like deep breathing and soothing touch. 

Here are some tips on how to get the most out of our Apollo during this stressful period:

  • Remember – sleep is crucial for your health and for being in control over how you feel. To unwind before bed, use Relax and Unwind mode (40% for 30 minutes) and turn on Sleep and Renew mode (60% for 30 minutes) to get the Zzz’s you need. 
  • If you’re feeling run down and stressed turn on Rebuild and Recover (30% for 15 minutes) to bounce back. This is a great mode to use during a midday break.
  • Want to transition into socializing with your friends and family (virtually or in real life) without carrying the weight of your stress? Use Social and Open (25% from 30 minutes).
  • Our friends at Byrdie shared their experience using Apollo during the Presidential Debate to ease anxiety.

Take good care of yourself now and after Election Day

The American Psychological Association reminds us “that we might not know who won the election on Election Day. If you think this will raise your anxiety, keep busy with things that you enjoy and stay connected to social support so that you aren’t continually checking for what could be viewed as “bad” news.”

Voting is undoubtedly a positive thing – it’s the time to exercise our rights and let our voices be heard. But this election season is an unprecedented one, clouded by the pandemic, fear, personal and professional burnout, high anxiety, and globally inflated stress levels. 

Remember, we’re all human. Nobody feels like we’ve got it all under control.  Celebrate the small wins, limit the screen time, and remember that the human body has an incredible level of resilience that you have the power to tap into.