How to Keep Your Head Clear in the Weeks to Come

Posted 11.02.2020

A few years ago, around the time my book, Overworked and Overwhelmed was launched, I wrote a series of blog posts under the theme of Mindful Mondays. I left that theme when I felt at the time that I had said everything I wanted to say on being mindful. On this Monday before Election Day in the United States, it feels like a good theme to return to for a week.

It’s no secret that most of us – no matter which candidate we’re voting for – are feeling a lot of anxiety and stress around what might happen this week. For example, an NBC News poll from last week found that around 70 percent of Americans are worried about safety during the days around the election.

When people are that scared and stressed, they’re in fight or flight hyper-drive. As a result, the decisions they make and actions they take aren’t coming from a place of peak performance. If you think you might resemble that remark, here are some things you can do to keep your head clear and calm in the weeks ahead:

Raise Your DOSE – There’s a huge physiological component to stress management that begins with raising your DOSE. That’s an acronym for four neurochemicals that are key players in getting out of the fight-or-flighty state that comes from chronic stress. The big four are:

Dopamine – This is the one that drives habit cycles – either positive or negative ones. If you’ve found yourself “doom scrolling” through headlines or Tweets on your phone lately, that’s because you’re getting a dopamine hit every time you find one that triggers you. Consider replacing those kinds of dopamine hits with the ones that come from constructive habits like hobbies and exercise.

Oxytocin – This is the neurochemical of connection. Reaching out to family and friends, petting your dog or cat or going through photos that evoke good memories of fun times you’ve had with others can all reduce stress by raising oxytocin.

Serotonin – This one creates a feeling of well-being. Among other activities, exercise and movement raise serotonin levels.

Endorphins – These create good feelings in your body. Laughter, movement, singing, dancing and chocolate (in moderation!) can boost endorphins.

Use the Seven Second Delay – Radio and television broadcasters often employ a seven second delay during live events to give their engineers time to bleep something that shouldn’t go out over the air. We can all employ the same idea by taking steps to control the gap between a stimulus and our response. The best way to do that is to take a deep breath from your belly before speaking or acting in a stressful situation. That gets you out of fight or flight mode and into a state where you can better choose your response. Check out the video in this post for my tips on how to get the most from your breathing.

Practice Awareness and Intention – Those two words – awareness and intention – are how I define mindfulness. First, there’s awareness which operates in two dimensions – external and internal. External awareness is focused on what’s going on around you. Internal awareness is tuning into the physiological, emotional and mental reactions you have to what’s going on around you. Noticing what’s going on within you sets you up to be intentional about choosing your response. You’re in a better position to ask, “Given what’s going on, what’s the best thing for me to do or not do in this situation?” Just asking the question can help bring you out of reinforcing loops of thought and action that perpetuate stress.

There’s a lot more I could say about managing yourself in times of stress; that’s why I wrote a book on it. For this week, though, I wanted to revisit some simple things you can do to keep your mind clear and your body calm so you can make your best choices as we go through this collective experience of a presidential election. One last thought before I sign off – no matter what happens, we’ll get through it. History has a way of reminding us that we have before and will again.

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