This presidential election, whether it ended the way you wanted it to or not, has been a challenging time for all of us and it has led us to a future that will most definitely be full of change and uncertainty.
There isn’t much that a sensitive person’s brain reacts to more than uncertainty and change….regardless of whether either is perceived by you to be good or bad.
I have been watching this election play out for months and I knew that it was causing me some stress. However, I was not aware of how emotionally and mentally invested I was until I sat in front of the TV last night and kept seeing Donald Trump’s name pop up as the winner of state after state, and the tears started to come. Now, I don’t want this post to instigate political debates, so no political comments please, but I really wanted Hillary to win for a lot of reasons, both personal and political. When I saw Donald Trump was winning, it was pretty rough. It made me question who this country is…WHAT this country is. That is a pretty heavy thing for a sensitive person like me to have hit me all at once.
I can’t help it. I am who I am.
And not long after the tears started, that is when an old familiar feeling came back: the non-stop feeling of my heart beating pounding in my chest.
That pounding had been a big symptom of mine back in my early days of anxiety so I knew the feeling well.
At first I didn’t want to believe the drum in my chest could be anxiety related and I tried to blame it on the coffee and soda I had that day. But when I woke up this morning and the subtle pounding was the first thing I noticed, I knew then that this was anxiety and stress related. Even now, hours later, as I sit here and type this, I still feel it.
I have nobody to blame but myself. I have been glued to the TV for weeks listening to angry talk, wondering about the future of our country and not once did I step up my self-care game. I didn’t start doing my breathing exercises again, or making sure I soaked in a hot bath once a day to relax my muscles. I didn’t journal or do anything to let out some of these negative feelings that I had to know on some level were building up. So it is no surprise that as soon as I saw that Donald Trump was definitely going to win, that was the last drop of water in my stress bucket that sent it into overflow.
It is vitally important that all of us, especially those of us with anxiety issues, make self-care a daily part of our lives, especially during times of stress and upheaval, in order to keep our brains calm and reassured that we have things under control.
Remember that your brain doesn’t know what exactly it is that is going on out there in your world. It only knows your reaction to it. It senses your reaction down to the most minute levels, registering feelings you may not even be consciously aware you are having.
Neglecting regular self-care prevents our nerves from being in top form and nerves that aren’t in top form don’t cope as well to stress and change. Our reactions become stronger, and when our brains sense that our emotional reactions are becoming stronger, they jump to the conclusion that there is some major stuff happening in our lives that we need some “help” with. Our brains think this bad stuff that is happening is “caveman” bad such as a lion or a tiger stalking us, not “modern times bad” like we have been watching CNN too much and have a wild card elected as president. So our brains give us “caveman help” in the form of our old friend adrenaline, to keep us alert, aware and “present” so that we can fend off an “attack”. That adrenaline can give us all kinds of troubles including:
- Feelings of Dread
- The Sensation of Your Heart Pounding in Your Chest
- Increased Respiration Rate/Shallow Breathing
- Feelings of Being Overwhelmed/That Things are Moving Too Fast
As I am sure you know, a mentally exhausted person tends to over-react to all of these symptoms, creating even more symptoms, and thus our latest bad anxiety cycle is born.
The good news for me, is that what is coming up over the sides of my stress bucket is not a Niagara Falls overflow….yet.
I have become aware of my stress problem just in time, when there is just a little sloshing off the top, so I am not going into a full on, seemingly never-ending panic attack spiral.
I am aware of everything that is going on in my life and world, and know why I am feeling symptoms of anxiety again. I can now start taking care of myself and putting myself into “brain soothing mode” by doing things like slowing down my speech, slowing down my movements, staying away from the TV and doing daily muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. All of these are things that tell my brain that my world is safe, normal, and secure and that I have everything under control. They lower the level of stress in my “bucket” to the point where it no longer overflows and gives me anxiety symptoms.
I have been living with anxiety long enough to know that after a bit of time and some good self-care, my brain will start trusting the world around me again.
It will start slowing down the adrenaline and my heart pounding will stop. That is very good to know and I am so proud of how far I have come with my anxiety disorder……that I can now feel anxiety symptoms, understand why they are there, get to work on getting them under control and get mentally healthier again….all without freaking out and making the whole thing worse.
The other good news is that in this time of craziness, chaos, and uncertainty, at least I know there is one thing that is still predictable and always will be: my brain has my back. That feeling of my heart pumping in my chest is annoying, yet reassuringly familiar – a clear sign that I am still me and that the basic things in my life haven’t changed.
Not yet anyway.
My thumping heart is a sign that my reliable brain senses my world is in trouble and it is working hard to help me get through it. My brain is doing what it was designed to do to help me through a tough time. The heart pounding I am feeling is a very normal response for what I am going through, and any other anxiety symptom that may pop up in the next few days and weeks is normal too. So instead of focusing on how uncomfortable my heartbeat is making me, and over-thinking any and all new sensations I develop over the next few days and weeks, I am just going to focus on taking better care of myself and trying to stay positive.
Make yourself a priority during times such as these.
Remind yourself that we are a strong country and that you are a strong person and we are going to be okay.
Even if you don’t necessarily fully believe that….your brain needs to hear you are at least open to the idea of it.
In addition, I can not stress enough the importance of doing things such as I mentioned above: slowing down your life as much as possible, keeping your breathing steady and calm, relaxing your muscles for at least twenty minutes a day through gentle heat or relaxation exercises, and not letting your inner dialogue turn toxic and menacing.
Your brain has your back, but you are the leader. You are who sets the tone for your brain and influences whether it is just hanging out with you all day observing and helping, or whether it is in “Battle Mode”, spending the entire day working like a soldier trying to keep you safe from threats.
For some tips and ideas on how to relax and find your calm during stressful times, check out this article about ways to relax, as well as this article which talks about the importance of desensitizing yourself when you are in a bad anxiety cycle or going through a very stressful time.
It is normal and understandable to feel overly excited, scared, confused, bewildered and even betrayed by what is going on in the world right now. You are not alone. A Google search of Post Election Anxiety will reveal pages of results due to the prevalence of this problem and offer you some more advice and insight to guide you. In addition, talking through your feelings with a trusted friend or professional, (and turning off the CNN ) can do wonders for your peace of mind and stress levels.
Thanks for reading, have a great day, and try your very best for no worries.