Election Fatigue: 10 Spiritual Practices for Toxic Times

I want to write about election fatigue. But I’m too tired.

I’ve been dragging, feeling run-down and drained. This should not be. I haven’t been sick. It’s my favorite time of year. Church is good, kids are good. It’s almost Halloween and last week was my birthday. I just got a FitBit and have met my step goals every day since I put the dang thing on. I’ve been sleeping ok. I eat green vegetables. What more does this body want from me?

My first impulse would be to blame last week’s birthday–which put me perilously close to 40–for this recent slump. We get older, our bodies can’t do what they once did, our energy wanes, blah blah blah. But I reject that reality as inevitable, AND I’m pretty sure it doesn’t creep up all at once like this. No, for my uncharacteristic case of the blahs–which feel a little deeper than just ‘blah’–I cannot blame the calendar. I can’t blame my children or the perpetual pile of dirty dishes in the sink. This is not an age issue, nor is it a scheduling problem. What I do think is affecting me bigly–and probably affecting you as well–is this election cycle.

It is toxic. It is literally making us sick and tired and, some days, achy all over. It’s like having the flu and PMS and, I don’t know, maybe Lyme disease, all at the same time. On top of a bad hangover. Add to all that, the feeling that someone has been swapping out your coffee with DECAF for a week, and that’s what I’ve been feeling like. It ain’t pretty. I look like hell, my thoughts are scattered, and I’m not super fun to be around. Ask my family.

I know that other people are feeling this way too, because they tell me so. Meanwhile, my newsfeed is filled with constant reminders, often in meme-form, that ‘we shouldn’t be this worried about politics!” because “God is in control!” and “can’t we all just get along?”

I’d love to just get along. I’d love to “not worry about it.” But as much as I believe in the transformative power and presence of God in the world, I also have a belief in this terrifying thing called free will… And the cycles of history in which people sometimes vote against their own interests and set destructive cycles in place, from which it will take generations to recover. While God loves us, cares for us, walks alongside us and continues to work through even the darkest seasons of the human story, that does not always mean intervention. That does not always mean safety or prosperity or justice, in its tangible forms.

The mantra of “it’s just politics” is profoundly unhelpful to me. I recognize that many people of faith have embraced this answer as a means of coping with the ugliness, and I do not begrudge them the comfort they find in that worldview. However, it is not a comfort available to me. Because it is not “just politics” this time. It is not a matter of disagreement, or a brief season of discord before we settle back into some sense of ‘normal’ on November 9. (Or November 29, depending on who you ask).

This year, it is so much more than that. On much deeper levels, this election cycle has revealed some dark truths about the world we live in–and, more to the point, the people who live in it with us–and those realities are not going to quietly recede when this is over. The discourse on the public stage has revealed ongoing and deeply rooted issues of misogyny, racism, Islamaphobia, and shaming of the poor–just to name a few–that have made many of us discouraged about the overall state of the soul of humanity.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, maybe we’ve seen people that we love land on troubling sides of these complex issues. This is not just a rough season of partisan politics– this has been a reckoning of seismic proportions. It’s the calling-out of long held divisions within our churches, families and communities; divisions that, regardless of the outcome of this election, cannot be ignored any more. No matter what happens, we have a lot of work to do if we are going to continue to live together in civilized society.

And we’re tired just thinking about it.

What this fatigue has taught me–this fatigue that, some days, feels like all-out spiritual warfare–is that the usual principles of self-care do not apply here. More sleep, a long walk and a nice kale salad are not going to cure what ails you when it’s a toxic culture that’s got you down. So how do we care for ourselves, in both body and spirit? How do we nurture relationships that are feeling the strain of systemic issues far bigger than any of us?

Meditation, via Pixabay
Meditation, via Pixabay

If I knew the answer, maybe I wouldn’t feel so tired and run-down, like I need a shot of B-12 and (another) giant espresso drink. What I do know is that ignoring the severity of these pervading cultural issues, or explaining them away in broad theological terms, serves no one. So I’m going to do my best to care for myself, and my people, in way that means we can come out of this whole and ready to rebuild on the other side. Here are my best suggestions. Not instead of but in addition to the usual drill–sleep, eat, movement, repeat. Maybe have some bourbon, if that’s your thing. And then, try this:

  1. Limit media consumption. The American Psychological Association says, not only is election stress real–more than half of American adults are suffering from it right now. (Go figure!) Read their other suggestions, but stepping away from the talking heads is the most productive approach. Seems like common sense, but it’s still hard to do some days, when our lives are saturated with technology.
  2. Read poetry or listen to music. Art is healing. And it uses a different part of the brain than the analytical/problem-solving part with which we process politics. As it happens, that same part of the brain is what tends to send us into fight-or-flight mode when we get angry so… give that particular animal a rest, and feed the one that craves beauty and creativity.
  3. Be generous. With your actual money. I like my friend Katherine’s suggestion on The Art of Simple to “give generously to organizations doing the kind of work that nudges the world toward how you think things should be.” Remember that voting is not the only tool you have to effect change.
  4. Get outside. Exercise does your body and spirit good, but don’t just hop on a treadmill. Being in the actual outside world–with trees and birds and sunshine–will make you breathe easier.
  5. Be present. Spend time with your people. The ones you live with, the ones you live near, maybe the ones you barely know. Sit at a table together. Maybe don’t talk about politics, but use the time and space to remember that we have in more in common with most of our fellow humans than Fox News and MSNBC would have us believe. Nurturing our relationships is the best way to provide a foundation for the work we’ll need to do post-election day.
  6. Pray. Not in a “dear God, please save us” kind of way; but in a “today I will root myself in the Spirit and remember that I’m a beloved child of God, and so is my neighbor” kind of way. Maybe read a few Psalms while you’re at it.
  7. Worship. Get thyself to church. Be a part of diverse community. Sing the songs, break the bread, hold the styrofoam coffee cup of salvation. Not only is the ritual comforting, but the act of gathering for a common purpose has soul-shaping AND earth-shaping potential. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to go to church, because I know you spend AT LEAST an hour a week on social media and watching cable news.
  8. Travel. Yes, a road trip is my answer to everything. This is not just escapism. A change of scenery can change your perspective on many things, not to mention give you a burst of energy inspired by a new context.
  9. Don’t engage negativity. On the one hand, shying away from tough issues will not help us in the long run. At the same time, engaging someone who is in an openly hostile place will get you nowhere. Read an interaction for its life potential, and if there is none, make like Elsa and let it go.
  10. Do something for someone else. A simple act of service will take some of that energy racing around your own brain and turn it outward. And maybe, who knows, change something for good.

Repeat steps 1 thru 10 as needed until symptoms subside. Be well out there, friends.

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