10/20/2016 05:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Election Anxiety? Try This Mindfulness Exercise


At least there's one thing we all have in common in this election: it's stressing us out. I recently wrote a segment for a prominent US television show about election anxiety, which is sweeping the country according to national Harris poll data released by The American Psychological Association.

Therapists are seeing a surge in anxiety among their patients, Republicans and Democrats alike, with a common theme: we don't feel safe.

Spending time on social media--scrolling through post after post that make our hearts race and our blood boil--is particularly heightening our anxiety, although many of us find ourselves unable to stop scrolling. We want to be informed, to take action, and to feel like we're in charge of our own lives.

But this anxiety is carried in our bodies, and the climate of conflict swirling around this year's election is creating excessive tension in our personal and collective psyches.

When the world feels like a scary place that's spinning out of control, or full of more bad than good, it's important to find peace where we can. In a funny movie. A laugh with a friend. A beautiful sunset. In our breath.

Anxiety is primarily fueled by worry about the future, which means an effective remedy can often be found in the present. Regardless of the outcome of this election, peace is available in every moment by bringing our attention inward.

You may want to take a few minutes and try this mindfulness exercise to bring peace into your heart, and if you have enough to spare, to send that out as love into the world.

It may feel like your actions are insignificant, but multiple scientific studies have shown that one percent of a population practicing a meditation/visualization technique aimed at creating peace for the population, effectively reduces crime rate, violence, and death.

These studies have taken place in cities all over the world since the 1970s. In Washington, D.C., for example, the rate of violent crime (as measured by FBI Uniform Crime Statistics) was decreased by 23.6% during the experiment.

Start with Yourself
Start by closing your eyes and taking several deep breaths. The oxygen will soothe your amygdala, the brain's stress sensor. Place your hand on your heart and find a loving and compassionate thought about yourself. It can be something small and simple, such as something that you appreciate or a wish that you have for yourself. Now, repeat that loving thought silently in your mind, and then send yourself the message, "May I be healthy, happy, and whole."

Expand to Someone You Love
Next, think of someone you love. Feel your appreciation and adoration for this person and feel that love filling your heart. Envision this person and deeply feel the care you have for them. Now, mentally send that person the love you're feeling while you project the message, "May they be healthy, happy, and whole."

Extend Your Love to Your Community

Now, expand the love in your heart to your community. This may encompass your family, your workplace, school, church, town, state, or even your whole country. Go as big as you feel comfortable. Imagine this community in a state of peace and harmony. Fill your heart with love and appreciation for them. Send that love with your thoughts as you project the message, "May they be healthy, happy, and whole."

Encompass the Entire World
Lastly, imagine the love you feel for your community expanding to surround the entire world. Imagine you are covering all of those in pain, fear, and sorrow with a blanket of love. Spend a few moments finding a feeling of peace and harmony within yourself. When you're ready, share that peace with the world by mentally projecting the message, "May we all be healthy, happy, and whole."

Be gentle with yourself and others today and in the weeks to come. Look for small ways to spread love and kindness, even with your thoughts. While there will always be things beyond our control, our attitude is never one of them. If you're worried or anxious about the future, bring your attention back to the present moment, in your own life right now.

As Ghandi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." That means you must take the actions that you feel best aligned with, at the polls and everywhere else, and then find peace within--even in the midst of an uncertain future.