There’s a saying that says, “don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.”
So many of my friends on Facebook, my clients, and just people I talk to, have reported that they have had such a hard week and hard time for a number of weeks now, because they are stressed about the upcoming election.
I gave this some thought, because I’ve been stressed, too. I do worry about a possible Trump win. In an earlier article I posted on Facebook, I encouraged people to think about Election Day in very practical terms, myself included, on how to plan your day around voting (if you didn’t do it already, early – I like to do it in person because it makes me feel good to see my neighbors voting with me at my assigned local polling place. It makes me feel like we live in a democracy, a right that so many peoples of the world don’t have).
But as a therapist and life/career coach, I felt like I should do more. In sessions, I help clients with what I call “adaptive coping”, which is a fancy term for “dealing with it” (LOL). Because I use Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and because I specialize in gay men, I woke up this morning brainstorming how I can help others cope with this week’s stress regarding their thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, their concrete behaviors this weekend, in the days prior to Election Tuesday.
Here are some suggestions for your weekend, although I’m sure you can think of others (comment below?). See if doing any of these might help a bit:
- Enjoy Your Food – I’ve learned from elderly relatives and friends that enjoying food is one of the most basic joys of life, and it can be so well into late life. Is there a new restaurant you could try? Is there a new recipe you could try? I’m a vegetarian “on my way to vegan” (inspired by my fitness hero, Nimai Delgado) and so creative recipes are a hobby that feel like a part-time job (again, LOL). Think of some ways you can delight your sense of taste this weekend, even with some “comfort food” to take your mind off the current stress.
- Enjoy Your Pet – If you have a pet, carve out some time to enjoy him/her. In Los Angeles, my husband and I visit the Mulholland Dog Park, but you could find a place for spending time with Fido anywhere. In this era of such political vitriol, enjoying the unconditional inter-species love of a pet can be comforting on a very primal level. If you don’t have a pet, can you visit an animal shelter and pet the critters there? Will they allow you to walk the dogs there? (My friend DK does this, bless his heart, and likes it a lot.) Can you visit a pet store’s weekend adoption services, even if you’re just visiting (and hey, maybe you’re not!).
- Enjoy Sex – Hey, it’s free (well, usually – another LOL). So many positive neurochemicals are released during sexual activity that they are a great counter-balance to the rushes of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that this week (and whole election season!) have brought out. Maybe try something (or someone) new? Visit an adult store and buy a toy for a new sensations? My friend (you know who you are, BL) always has this joke about wanting to visit a Home Depot and just browse through the aisles with the point of view of using the merchandise as sex toys. What would you devise? Ropes, duct tape, chamois cloths, chains – use your imagination. (And if you pass other gay couples in the aisles, just wink at them and say, “Ken Howard’s blog, right?” and see if they blush – LOL).
- Do Something Productive – Last weekend, my husband and I decided to have a very “grown-up” weekend. We met with a fee-only Certified Financial Planner (Thomas Donnelly of Calamus Financial Group, who specializes in working with gay male couples and the whole LGBT community, and someone I recommend very highly!) who helped answer our questions about retirement planning, insurances, durable power of attorney, advanced health care directive, wills, a trust, cash flow, taxes, and expense management. Thomas referred us to LegalZoom.com, and we got a lot done for not a ton of money. (Although I always love to give a shout-out to David Rae, CFP, also an excellent LGBT (and others) financial planner with a fantastically educational and inspirational blog.)
Later, we met with a “pre-need counselor” (don’t you just love that subtle title?) representative from Forest Lawn Cemetery (where my great-grandmother, Marth E. Howard, and my great-aunt, actress Esther Howard, are interred) and discussed what my husband I each wanted for our “final wishes” about burial, cremation, funeral services, etc. It was all a bit macabre, but we felt very “responsible” in doing that, and something ironically comforted that our final wishes were clear and sensitive, and on file, which felt oddly satisfying. Too many people (especially couples!) put this off until they have to scramble at “time of need” (aka the crisis of death). So, despite it being an already stressful time about the future of this country and all of our lives in it, why not sit down and talk with your partner/spouse about what really matters, not just on a national election level, but on a very personal, relationship level? It’s actually easier than you think, and is really an act of love for your partner/spouse to understand, “hear”, and plan their most profound final wishes.
- Enjoy Your Body – Exercise is one of the best stress-busters of them all. Can you go for a hike to let off steam? Can you just get a damn good gym workout in? Can you road-trip somewhere that has beautiful scenery? (East Coasters might be able to go somewhere to see colored leaves falling). Besides sex, other ways to inducing endogenous opiates through exercise or maybe a massage/facial can also reduce the stress of countless memes. (Shout out to the very inspirational Josh Sanchez, whose posts always inspire and reduce stress while energizing your fitness!)
- Enjoy Family and Friends – OK, maybe “some” family and friends are sources of that stress, because they are anti-gay and intend to vote that way for Trump/Pence, leading the most anti-gay official party platform in history. So, maybe seek out like-minded kinfolk, from your Family of Origin or from your Family of Choice. As the saying goes, “company doubles our joys, and divides our sorrows.” They also say “misery loves company” (LOL). But being with others, in general, with a friendly audience, can be a stress-reducer.
- Clean Something – Nothing discharges nervous energy rather than good ole’ fashioned work. Sure, you’ve worked all week and you’re trying to de-stress, but as long as the government is apparently preparing to “clean house”, why don’t you? Louise Hay used to say, “When you clean out your closet, you’re really cleaning out your mind.” It’s liberating and freeing to get rid of unwanted stuff that takes up valuable space in your home, and it’s a nice feeling to donate things you no longer need or want to someone else (at thrift stores) that might need or want them very much indeed.
- Volunteer – Nothing helps feed the soul more than helping others. If you find our political or national/global climate coarsening or entropic, volunteer for something. I mentioned above about visiting animal shelters, but you could also make plans to volunteer to shuttle older people or people with disabilities to the polls on Tuesday. Or you could help serve at a soup kitchen or food pantry. Or you could visit elderly people at a seniors home. Who cares if they don’t know you? Just check in with the staff regarding the security rules, and maybe they will let you converse with an elderly person who hasn’t had someone to talk to besides basic staff in weeks (they exist). Maybe you know a kid who needs help with a school project and his lame-ass parents are “too busy”. Maybe you have a neighbor who needs help running a garage sale so people don’t just come up and steal stuff off the lawn (that’s a thing, you know). Maybe a local political office needs “get out the vote” reminder calls and you could staff the phones. Maybe you can canvass door-to-door for get out the vote efforts. Be creative. Stress is easily discharged by meaningful, altruistic work.
- Enjoy Your Car – Go for a drive somewhere. Visit an auto dealer of your dream car, even if you can’t afford it yet. Be an American and allow yourself to be materialistic for a moment and fantasize about that beautiful, work-of-art machine. Or, if you’re not into cars, just shop. A huge part of American politics is economics. Don’t over-spend with “retail therapy”, but if you need something for your home, maybe this weekend (before the holiday rush!) is a good time to buy it. Or maybe you get something you don’t “need”, but want – as a stress reducer (although be careful of this; you don’t want to cultivate a debt scenario). Better yet, shop for someone else (a child maybe?) and see what you can find for a “just for the hell of it” gift. In this political climate of such profound selfishness, deliberately cultivate the generosity and goodwill side of the human animal, which is so antidotal to its hateful, selfish, bigoted side (which we see far too much of at these rallies and so forth).
- Plan Your Holidays – Like it or not (LOL), the holiday season is almost here. I’m on the official Elf Committee promoting the local Los Angeles annual Toy Box Party, where unwrapped toys are are collected for Southern California kids whose families can’t afford toys for them. This is perhaps my favorite charity event of the year, and I gleefully dispense with restraint when I shop Target or Toys R Us for donations (I get the toys, but I also use packaging tape to adhere packages of extra batteries and some goodies from the candy aisle on the boxes, as well). I never meet those kids, but I like to imagine the faces when the little (gay) boy gets his Barbie or when the little (lesbian) girl gets her Tonka truck (or at least that’s the scenario I like to play in my mind – an active, idealistic, romantic, fantasy mind, but my mind nonetheless LOL). SO — I officially challenge you, dear friends, to be just obnoxiously over-the-top royal queen Liberace-was-butch-compared-to-this excessively generous in joining me in supporting Toy Box 2016!
So, there you have it. At least 10 ways to employ stress-busters on this “Election Eve” weekend. Learn them well. If Tuesday doesn’t go your way, you’re going to need these tips by next weekend, again, too. Could be worse – we could all be in Aleppo now. At least we have the chance to speak up, and fight for what’s right. Think globally, act locally. Charity – and busting stress – begins at home. Goddess Bless America.
It is my honor to help gay men (and others!) with managing stress, or helping with anything that is a current challenge for you in your relationship, career, health, finances, sex life, or family. If you would like some extra support for something you’re facing these days, consider becoming my client for therapy sessions in person (in Los Angeles/West Hollywood) or online coaching, to anywhere in the United States or the world. I would be happy to help! (Fees are on a sliding scale according to your income, and when I get full, I have an associate who can help, too.)