How to relax during election week and do something other than doomscrolling

Jessica Roy
HOLLYWOOD, CA-July 5, 2019: Breathwork practitioner, Ana Lilia, during a photo shoot at her house in Hollywood on Friday, July 5, 2019. Lilia uses a myriad of methods in her energy work, including sage and crystals, to help facilitate the release of blocked energy and emotion for her clients. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
Breathwork practitioner Ana Lilia with her plants at home in Hollywood last year. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Take a deep breath.

Election day is almost here — and with it, sky-high stress levels for just about everyone.

The temptation to spend the next 48 hours refreshing Twitter or a preferred polling site is strong. But if you want to retain some semblance of sanity, resist.

Because whatever the outcome of the election, you'll hear about it. Beyond casting your ballot and making sure your friends and family have done the same, there isn't a ton you can do right now. So take care of yourself.

"People are freaking out, and they're so burnt out with election stuff," said Ana Lilia, a guided meditation and breathwork instructor in Los Angeles.

Lilia offered some immediate things you can do to, if not relax, at least take a small step back from feeling like your bloodstream is 90% adrenaline.

  • Bubble up. Saying "just meditate" can actually be anxiety-inducing for some people, because we worry we're doing it wrong. And anxiety is the opposite of what we want right now. Instead, try some relaxing visualizations. Before doing something stressful, Lilia says she tells her clients to visualize putting themselves in a bubble: "It's just this energetic boundary so that whenever they're going to open up that email or turn on the TV, it doesn't feel like it's knocking them over." Another visualization she recommends: Imagining yourself sitting on the ground or in a tree, growing roots and connecting to the Earth.

    If you do want to try some more involved meditation, Headspace's offer for free subscriptions for people in L.A. County is still active.

  • Set boundaries. Lilia says she sets aside specific times to check the news: "I need to create blocks of time where I'm not being overwhelmed with information. That has allowed me to be able to digest the information I am getting without feeling overwhelmed and without putting myself in a state of panic."

    In those non-newsy chunks of time, do things that relax you. Listen to your favorite music. Bake something delicious. (Calories don't exist during election weeks, though gaining weight during a pandemic doesn't matter anyway.) Take a bath. Tend to your houseplants or pull weeds in the garden. Lilia says she considers gardening its own form of meditation. Download a distracting yet absorbing game on your phone so you're not automatically opening your news app every time you pick it up (suggestions here). Find something productive to distract yourself, like really digging into deep-cleaning your kitchen, or offering to write an article about relaxation and self-care tips for your newspaper.

  • Stay aware of your body. Mental stress causes physical stress, and loosening up your sack of meat and bones can help relax that brain it's chauffeuring around. As you scroll Twitter, pay attention to what your body is doing. Is your breath getting shallow? Are your shoulders hunched up around your ears? You won't miss anything if you take a minute to do a few shoulder rolls and deep breaths. Lilia said to go outside, if you can, and feel the sun on your skin for a moment, or the grass under your feet. Ground your body in the physical world.

  • Breathe. In, out, in, out. Even just 30 seconds of taking deep breaths and focusing only on the air entering and exiting your lungs will give you a boost, Lilia said. For an advanced technique, she said, try box breathing: Inhale for four seconds. Hold it for four seconds. Exhale for four seconds. Hold for four seconds before starting the inhale again.

    Or, if you prefer something more visual, follow along with this triangle breathing video.

Some more ideas and techniques for surviving this week:

  • Commiserate in your freakout with columnist Mary McNamara, whose stress-relieving scented candles don't seem to be working: "Look at the polls; don’t look at the polls. Look at the maps; don’t look at the maps. Look at social media; swear off social media. Read the 9,700 think pieces about what will happen in any scenario that are flooding every screen but the screen door, or don’t."

  • Close your eyes, turn off your phone, turn on your favorite album, and listen deeply. The Times' Randall Roberts writes: "Stoners will probably tell you to consume an edible an hour prior. Scotch is wonderful. (LSD is illegal.) None of it is necessary. Mindfulness is essential. Light a candle or not. Doesn’t matter, but dimmed light will change the environment for the better." We also have recommendations for music to help you fall asleep at night.

  • Work out. We've got ideas for yoga routines and other home workout sessions to sweat out the stress. Yeah, yeah, squeezing in a quick yoga class is going to interrupt your plans to spend the night cozied up with a bottle of wine and a bowl of leftover Halloween candy on the couch. But really, you'll feel better. You know you'll feel better.

    “When the world around us is feeling chaotic, we can have a space to go inward, to notice the emotions and the feelings that are coming up in the body,” said Alli Simon, a yoga and meditation facilitator from South L.A.

  • Set up some time to socialize. Organize a post-election decompression virtual happy hour with your friends. If talking is too painful, we've got ideas for setting up an online movie night, karaoke jam, dinner party or Dungeons and Dragons game.

  • Start your holiday shopping. Retail therapy is productive if it's for other people. Our gift guide has ideas to shop from L.A.-based small businesses.

  • We made a list of more than 100 things to do online to distract yourself during quarantine, including a Wikipedia rabbit hole library, opportunities to transcribe historical documents and a dystopian start-up simulator. Because the real dystopia isn't very fun.

  • Did we mention deep breaths and the free Headspace subscription?

If you've made it this far and you still feel like every muscle in your body is clenched and you see the New York Times' needle waving around when you close your eyes — and assuming you are at least 21 and in California — we've got one last idea for you: Weed is legal here. We have a map of where to find it. Please do not eat the whole edible.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.