SECTIONS

Anxious about the election? Here's what to do

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Kenyans will soon head to the polls to choose the fifth President.

After months of campaigns and debates, we will stand in line, wait our turn, and do our part. Together, we will make a critical decision about the future of our country.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be feeling anxious about the outcome.

Elections create anxiety and make us feel small because they remind us of an important truth: we don’t control very much. Voting is like taking your last turn in a game. You throw your last shot, and that’s it. One throw. 

As a Kenyan, how are you holding things together? Are you thriving or merely surviving? It's a challenging time for many, so it’s understandable if your biggest hope right now is simply a peaceful government transition.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to find the boldness to let go of things that you can’t control, and which do not serve your emotional and mental wellbeing.

After all, the good news is that August 9th will come and go. And regardless of the outcome - whether we come together or experience further division - the world will keep spinning, even if it takes weeks for the results to come in. So don’t let anxiety and fear of the unknown steal your joy, your presence of mind, or your courage to act during this season.

But how can you learn to let go of the things you can’t control, and manage your anxiety, as we approach election day?

For starters, you can regulate your media intake. Mindlessly scrolling through the latest videos, articles and tweets, searching for the next shocking headline, feeds your anxiety. A steady diet of catastrophic news, especially when you can’t do much about it, is bad for your health. Information that creates fear, panic and stress trigger a complex physiological reaction. Your heart rate and blood pressure spike and stress hormones flood your body. It’s hard to sleep, focus, rest and breathe.

The second thing you can do is vote. It’s an opportunity to let your voice be heard. It’s your responsibility to participate in making this country a better place—for yourself, your family and your community. Take ownership of your life and your future by casting your ballot.

Thirdly, remember to rest, be kind and play. Life is too short to be engrossed in drama, unproductive arguments and a hurry culture. It doesn't have to be expensive of course, given these harsh economic times. Identify your rest and play, and choose to be kind to yourself and others. You don’t have to prove to your neighbour why your presidential candidate makes more sense than his. Political campaigning is a bit like a game, and it will soon be over.

Fourthly, you can model being a good citizen. Your example can be a tremendous force for good. This can look like being intentional about kindness, extra cash to your local mama mboga, being grateful to your waiter or waitress, speaking hope and peace across social media platforms or funding the campaign of a leader whose ideologies you believe in etc.

Anxiety is an alarm system that warns us of danger in our environment. And lately, it can feel like the alarms have been ringing at full blast. Experiencing anxiety doesn’t mean that you’re broken or weak: It means that you feel disconnected, unsafe or out of control. Anxiety isn’t a one-and-done thing. For some of us, it will take a lifetime to change our relationship with anxiety. But there are actions you can take today to find hope.

So finally, think of valuing your community. You can do this in two ways. First, when you’re anxious, it’s a sign of feeling disconnected. Spend time with those who support and love you—your spouse, your children and your friends. Talk about your fears and listen to the fears of others. Seek to listen first and explain second.

And next, value people who don’t align with you politically. No matter who wins, we’re going to board a bus next to each other at the same bus station. We’re going to share meals next to each other at restaurants. Let’s be with one another as human beings and choose not to go on the offensive. We must choose to move forward, united as one group of people doing the best we can. We need each other.

The writer, Diana Chepkosgei, is Senior Psychologist and Staff Care Specialist at Thrive Worldwide.