Plan for Your Real Life After the Election, Whatever Happens
Thinking ahead about your grocery list and laundry schedule can help you cope with chaos
For the week of the election, I’m strategically planning my shower schedule. I’m usually an every-other-day bather, but next week, my only priority is to take a shower on the morning of November 3. Because if things don’t go as I want them to, I don’t see myself mustering up the energy I need to do it the next day, let alone venture off my couch. Starting with clean hair on Election Day gives me a few days of buffer.
A lot is at stake during any presidential election — but for many of us, this one in particular feels like it comes with life-or-death consequences. Kate Truitt, a California-based psychologist, says the ongoing stress of the last four years (not to mention a global pandemic) has made people more sensitive than usual to new, potentially threatening information. “Election Day is the pivotal moment where you’ll either be able to breathe again or feel like you need to go into hiding,” she says.
If the worst does happen, it can help to devise a coping plan in advance — not just for the next four years but also for dealing with the immediate emotional hangover. Right now, today, is the time to account for all the small, boring things that keep your life running: your showers, your grocery lists, bill deadlines, things that need to be mailed and appointments to be made.
Because the bad news doesn’t just steal your hope; it actually drains your resources. When your brain’s stress response is activated, the prefrontal cortex — the part of your brain that helps you to think logically and override big emotions — goes “offline.” And depression doesn’t just make you teary; it can also zap your motivation and cause mental and physical fatigue.
Creating an action plan, Truitt says, gives your thinking brain something to grab onto in a worst-case scenario so your amygdala, the part of the brain that deals with emotions, doesn’t totally take over. “Having a routine in place buffers the amygdala’s need to take control because you’re putting one foot in front of the other with agency, which is the greatest buffer for hopelessness,” she says. “When the fear part of the brain is having a hard day, taking action can let it know that we’re okay, even though the world feels really hard.”
So, ahead of the election, start to think about how to create your own buffers. Which parts of your daily life would feel most burdensome to you when you’re deflated? Start by tackling the practical stuff: Would it help to make and freeze a few meals or sign up for food delivery? What about doing laundry or dishes or stocking up on your favorite beverage before November 3?
Solidarity and connection can also help take the edge off hopelessness, so get a post-election Zoom call (or a masked in-person meetup) with a supportive loved one on the calendar now.
And know that if things do turn out okay, all your planning won’t be in vain: Just use those resources to celebrate instead. Luckily, a drink with a friend works either way.