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Post-Debate Mental Health First Aid: Tips from a Therapist

I had a full day of client sessions.  Many people were experiencing significant levels of anxiety, dread, anger, and buckets of grief after watching the debate. If you're feeling similarly, here are a few thoughts that might help.

Focus on What You Can Control

Give yourself a gentle reminder about what you can control and what you can’t. For example:

  • What you can control: Your vote, writing postcards, registering voters, engaging in meaningful conversations, and advocating for causes you believe in.

  • What you can’t control (but might wish you could): The future of the country, the outcome of the election, the media’s focus on sensationalism. Also, whether and when the apocalypse is upon us :)

Remembering what is out of our control can give our tired brains a rest from trying to constantly solve or fix something unsolvable by us as individuals. If you are like the many incredibly smart people I know, if you could have fixed it with your thoughts, all would be well already.

Finding ground amidst feelings of groundlessness

When feeling groundless and uncertain, anchor yourself in what you can trust. This might be:

  • Acting out of your values: For example- kindness, generosity, and integrity.

  • Connection to the natural world: For many, spending time outdoors, observing the beauty, resilience, and vastness of our natural world is grounding.

  • Faith in something larger than yourself: Whether it’s a spiritual belief, community, or the idea of collective human goodness.

Ground Yourself in the Present Moment

If these ideas don’t resonate or are failing to help, try grounding yourself in the present moment. When overwhelmed, use your five senses to notice what is real right now:

  • Sight: What do you see around you?

  • Touch: What textures can you feel?

  • Smell: What scents are in the air?

  • Hearing: What sounds can you hear?

  • Taste: What flavors are on your tongue?

Often, life is manageable in this moment, it’s our thoughts about the future that are immobilizing.

Limit Your News Intake

Not an invitation to be uninformed, but a reminder to be mindful about media consumption. Some reminders of things you likely already know:

  • Set specific times for news consumption: Perhaps once a day for a limited time.

  • Avoid news before bed: Decent sleep is the foundation of resilience. 

  • Limit social media: Yes, it can feel impossible, it's often where we land when too overwhelmed or exhausted to focus on anything else. If you're having a hard time demagnetizing yourself from the apps, how about focusing on adorable babies/pets or whatever you find funny or relaxing.

Remember the Long Arc of History

It’s easy to feel like this is the end of the world, but consider the long arc of history:

  • Regimes have come and gone: Humanity has survived and adapted through countless challenges.

  • The earth is a tiny rock in a vast, mysterious universe. Taking the long view can sometimes offer a broader perspective.

Final Thoughts

Lean into your support network, and take actions, even if small, that align with your values. Laugh when you can. Pet your dog or cat if you have one. In these uncertain and overwhelming times, it’s important to care for your mental health. Remember that it’s also okay to seek professional help if you need it.  You are not alone. 

Juliana Keen is a therapist and cofounder of Holding Space for Change

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