Vote. Breathe. Find the good: Three ways to be okay with the future, whoever wins.

Posted by on Nov 2, 2016 in Blog, Mindfulness Training, Personal Coaching, Spiritual Shifts | 2 comments

Vote. Breathe. Find the good: Three ways to be okay with the future, whoever wins.

As a psychologist and personal coach who often assigns “news vacations” to clients, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve needed one for a while, and yet I haven’t taken one. The truth is, I’ve gotten caught up. Whereas morning rituals of the past involved a steaming cup of coffee and taking a peaceful 15 minutes to mindfully enjoy its nuances, this past year, and particularly these past six months, my oversized unicorn mug (which says “f**king magical”, by the way) sits, cooling and underappreciated, while I read headlines, articles, and poll stats, and feel my blood pressure rising, heart rate increasing, mood plummeting, and inspiration waning.

That is the exact reason why I recommend news vacations.  Unless it is the kind of news that includes photos of pugs dressed as Chewbacca. Because that kind of news is awesome.

There is research to support how steeping in bad news of the world can lead to bad news for people. Bad news undoubtedly has a physiological effect on the human system.  In 2014, University of Montreal researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital discovered that exposure to negative stories in the media increases women’s sensitivity to stressful situations. While the same was not found for men in this particular study (potentially due to evolutionary factors involving the female’s need to protect offspring, and the differences in the development of empathy between males and females), I have seen in both personal and professional environments that men are absolutely not immune to the stress that is caused by the same exposure. Over time, as our cups get full of bad news, our nervous systems pour over and start screaming “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” Hormones and neurotransmitters flood through the body, enacting on all of it, and can wreak havoc, physically, emotionally, psychologically.

And spiritually. A research study written up in the journal Emotion in 2015 told that the experience of “awe”, which can be perceived as something spiritual by those who would choose those words, or “aweism”, by those who don’t, can reduce the inflammatory markers known as cytokines. High levels of cytokines can lead to physical health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, and mental health concerns such as depression.

By reading, watching and listening to this presidential election cycle, I think it’s fair to say that for many, anxiety has gone up, while aweism has gone down.

Even the APA chimed in a couple of weeks ago about how over half of American adults surveyed report that this election has been a significant source of stress. As both an American who would place herself in that 52 percent and a psychotherapist who listens to people in that 52 percent, this has been a painful time to experience in myself and to witness in others. And here we are. A mere week before all the ballots are cast and votes are counted. Before results are accepted, or not.  Before things calm down or get stirred up even more. So, what can we do about it?  For our hearts, our minds, our bodies? For our children, our clients, our students? For the future of all?

  1. Vote

Casting your ballot is the only thing that you have control of in this election. Do whatever you can to make sure that happens. That is all you can do to influence this election. Period.

2. Breathe

There are volumes I could write, for the benefit of mindful breathing is boundless. But for brevity’s sake, it goes like this. Once you have voted, let it go. And then, before you do anything else– notice your breath. Don’t try to change it, or control it. Just let it be.  Let it breathe you, as it normally does, so effortlessly, thanklessly. And then just watch it. Witness it happening. Then make it more voluntary.

Inhale, to the count of three or four or even five, and feel the movement happen, spherically in your body. Feel your breath enter your nose or mouth. Feel the sensation of it moving down your throat; gathering momentum as it touches your lungs. Notice the filling of your chest, your ribs expanding.  See if you can feel the moment when your belly enlarges and pushes your diaphragm down toward your pelvis. Notice the sides and the back of your body. What your spine and shoulder blades do with the breath.

Now exhale, to that same count as your inhale, and feel the diaphragm go back up to its neutral place of rest, the air leaving your lungs, belly contracting. Feel your ribs pull in. Feel the sensation of the breath traveling back up your throat and out of your nose and mouth.

Repeat this, as much and as often as you can. Set a timer for a minute, three times a day, and practice. When you can breathe, who is president does not matter.

3. Find the good news (pssst—pugs dressed as Chewbacca)

Reconnect with gratitude and awe. Start the future with this moment. It’s all we have. Step away from your laptop, iPad, newspaper, earbuds.  Go out into nature, where there is running water and wind moving branches of trees; the reminder that something exists in this very moment that is of beauty. Hold hands with your beloved, kiss the soft cheeks of your children. Break bread and drink wine with friends. Sit alone with yourself. Look in the mirror. Remember who you are, beyond the worry of the weight of the world.  Feel the sensation of gratitude in your heart for all that you have. This is a simple concept, and a challenging practice. But it works.

I want to say that I write this for every person in this country.  No matter who you vote for, I wish you happiness. I want you to feel whole. I want you be able to feel vitality and hope, and to know that somehow, this country and your personal world will be okay. No matter who becomes president elect on November 8.

In joy,

jessica-signature

2 Comments

  1. Hi Jessica,

    So here we are, a year into the “Realm of Trump” and gentle souls are wondering what insights you might be able to share. Specifically ones regarding how beings of light can survive the seemingly constant barrage of political drama that inundates our quotidian existence.
    Just curious.

    Hope all is well.

    • Hi Nolan,

      Well, since a year has gone by and another blog post is long overdue, I’ll get on it and do my best to offer something skillfully composed and hopefully of benefit. Thanks for your interest!

      Be well,

      Jessica

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