This month’s election is unprecedented. It is unprecedented in the sense that everyone will be impacted by it one way or another. After the election is said and done, there will be a group of people celebrating and a group of people grieving, angry, and scared. There may also be a third group who feels indifferent or ambivalent.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to be dealing with a MESS of emotions—a mess of so many different thoughts and feelings, both on Election Day, as well as after the results are announced. As I pondered this shared emotional experience, I came up with an acronym that can help all of us work with our election stress: MESS.
Emotions are a physiological experience designed to ready your body for action. Most people tend to go in one of two directions with their emotions: Stuff them down or puff them up. It has been my observation that most people try to stuff their emotions down. Stuffing creates a lot of wear and tear on your body, as does puffing in the form of catastrophizing. Think of a time when you had to suppress a laugh. It’s almost painful to try to hold in your laugh! And it’s such a relief when you can finally let it out.
After the election, some people will be celebrating and moving their emotion of happiness. Other people will need to move their emotions of sadness, anger, or even fear. Painful emotions are the ones we more typically stuff down. You can begin to move your painful emotions by crying, stomping your feet, taking a rigorous walk (or two or three), or even curling up with a soft blanket. Move your body in any way that feels good to you. As long as you do not cause harm, you cannot do it wrong.
Learning how to express your emotions goes along with moving your emotions. Take the movement of your emotions a step further and begin to express your emotions in sounds and in words. Emotions contain vital information for you about you and about your next steps. Expressing your emotions will help you discover their wise information.
You may find yourself sighing a lot. Sighing is often a sign that an emotion is trying to get your attention. Pay attention to your sighs, and perhaps let yourself groan or moan. Sounds help express emotions without attaching a story to them.
Also express your emotions in words. Naming a painful emotion—“sad”, “scared”, “angry”, “disgusted”—has been shown to help calm the emotional center of the brain so that thinking and emoting can work together. You can name your emotions out loud or in a journal. You can also call a good friend and ask them to listen. Express and name how you feel about the election, as well as how you feel ABOUT how you feel! If you are in the habit of stuffing your emotions down, you may feel critical and harsh about any emotional reaction. Remember to approach yourself with compassion and acceptance.
This is when people often turn toward practices like meditation. Once you have moved and expressed your emotions, it will be important to settle your body and mind. Think of your emotions like a wave; an emotion rises, pushing itself upward in the form of movement and expression, and then, like a wave, it will crest and begin to settle. Settling will help your body and mind complete the wave of an emotion. A good way to think of settling practices is any type of practice that moves you down or slows you down.
Settling down may include sitting in meditation and inviting the breath to move deep into your belly. If your breath is too activated, you may want to focus on feeling the back of your thighs in the chair or the bottom of your feet. Lie down and feel each point of contact along the backside of your body. Find creative ways to move your attention and your energy down to connect to the floor and the earth beneath you.
Settling can also be achieved by slowing down. Take a slow walk. Listen to slow music. Eat or drink your favorite food or beverage in a slow manner. Sweep or mop your kitchen floor slowly. I remember when my grandparents would go for a Sunday drive, and they would drive in a patient and unhurried way. Move your body in slow, deliberate ways, and your attention will naturally begin to settle.
Whether you are struggling or celebrating, we need one another—but especially if you are struggling. If you are prone toward stuffing your emotions, then you may try to muddle through the coming days alone. Although some of the ways we normally connect have shifted due to COVID-19, use technology to reach out for support. Text a friend or a family member. Set up a time to talk on the phone or by video.
The Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness is here to support you, along with so many other wonderful organizations in our community. This Saturday, November 7, we are offering a 3-hour Mindfulness for Beginners workshop online. Join us from 9:30-12:30 pm EST. We would love to support you on your journey.
If you find yourself in a MESS of emotions in the coming days, remember to move, express, settle, and support yourself. Jon Kabat-Zinn once quoted a yogi of old when he said, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” The waves will keep coming, and we can learn how to care for ourselves and each other in the midst of it all.
Watch April’s recent segment sharing this acronym with Valerie Lego from WZZM13 here: Just breathe: Tips for dealing with election stress