Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

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Coping with US Election Stress and Fatigue

The US election appears to have been tailor-made for 2020—it has been long, arduous and feels like it may never end.

As Canadians, we have no influence over the US election, but we know that the results will impact us. It is hard when you have no control over something that you have become emotionally involved in and we won’t be able to move on or to build until it is settled.

This is a great example of a situation where we have low decision control but will feel the stress or distress of the result.

Alberta lawyers are not unified in support for one candidate over the other. In a two-party system, there has been little room for collaboration or dialogue, and the divide between the two camps is deep.

In situations like this, it is important to recognize that while you cannot control the event, you can control how you react to it.

You may well be unhappy, shocked, or horrified with the final outcome, but remember that all things pass. Focus on how you are moving forward with your own life and take a deep breath (or several of them.)

I have gathered self-help tips for post-election distress from some of my sister organizations under the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which I have synthesized here:

  • Don’t dwell on the news: take breaks from social media or use it mindfully, and limit how much news you watch. With court challenges looming, the period of uncertainty (and perhaps incivility) will continue. Checking twice a day for actualized news or results may be healthier than keeping a newsfeed going through the day.
  • Consider writing down what it is that you fear. Come back to this list after a break and then circle the things that you can control, and then direct your attention and focus to those things. Let go of the other things. Making a new list that just includes the things you control may be helpful. Your emotions and feelings are important. Take time to acknowledge (and name) what you are feeling. Consider whether discussing your feelings with a counsellor or a close friend would be helpful.
  • If you feel that you are following a path of negative thoughts, try to counter these thoughts by identifying touchstones, times when you were in a challenging situation and successfully navigated your way out or achieved success, where you were proud of your work.
  • Take a break from the issue—turn off the news and your social media and instead take a mental health day, watch happy TV shows or videos, create a comfortable space to curl up and enjoy quiet activities, or go out into nature.
  • Be active. Take a walk or engage in more strenuous exercise (within appropriate limits). Snow shovelling may well be on the agenda for most Albertans this weekend. Focusing on a physical task like snow-shovelling or housework can help disrupt the stress cycle.
  • Accomplish something within your control. Take on a task and do it mindfully.
  • Connect with your support people who will help you feel whole. Avoid those with whom you disagree for now while you are healing. And consider the advisability of spending time with people who agree with you but will whip up your emotions. This may be a time for quiet support and nurturing, not re-engagement with the issue itself.
  • Immerse yourself in what you value most in your life and in our culture. As the Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers states, “Wrap yourself in what feels safe and comfortable and connect with those who share this with you.”
  • Try meditation or mindfulness. These activities involve focusing on particular things—like your breathing or physical sensation—which displace the stress-filled thoughts that have settled into your consciousness. Remember that we have a 15-minute mindfulness break on Tuesdays at noon (email to register).
  • Taking care of your body can help you feel stronger and more capable of coping. Plan healthy meals and arrange to get enough sleep. Exercise is good, too.
  • As lawyers, we don’t talk about spiritual issues very much, but we all have a concept of spirituality, whether it is through formal religion or a big picture view of the world. Consider what is meaningful to you spiritually and what you believe your purpose is. Then, can you take steps to pursue your purpose?
  • Identify what you are grateful for. This doesn’t have to take the form of a journal, since many people find that idea intimidating. But take time to identify the positives and gifts mentally or jot them down on a piece of paper that you can discard if you wish.
  • Consider serving the less fortunate. We know that giving to others can help us build resilience and experience positive emotions, but the act of giving to others can help us feel grateful not only for what we have but that from that abundance, we are able to give to others. Dropping off groceries at your local food bank may feel more tangible than making an online donation—so enjoy the act of buying groceries for people in need and delivering them.

Sometimes we withdraw and isolate ourselves when we are feeling troubled. Drawing inward while we process complex emotions for a period of time can be good, but don’t let it go on too long. Assist has drop-in coffee circles on Mondays at noon where all lawyers are welcome. This is a non-judgmental and non-threatening group where you can listen and observe or engage fully—whatever works for you.

The US election has been a trauma that most of us didn’t need while we are coping with a pandemic and increased local case counts. However, it happened and is continuing, unresolved with the possibility of lengthy court challenges. We all have other traumas that this year has brought and most of us have been experiencing feeling a lack of control in our lives. We need to be strong and we need to get through this together.

Assist is here with professional counselling (1-877-498-6898) and peer support (1-877-737-5508.) We have resources on our website, from mental health self-checks to strategies including mindfulness, resilience and stress management. And if you just need to connect with someone, you can always call Eileen (587-779-7200) or me (587-779-7205.)

Stay strong,
With gratitude to Minnesota Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, Massachusetts Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers and Kansas Lawyers Assistance Program for their excellent resources.