Voting is an essential element of the United States democratic process, but it’s also something that can cause emotional strain. As millions of people across the country head to the polls, some will experience stress, pressure, and anxiety around this activity. Supporting someone who is feeling stress around voting helps bring humanity to the democratic process at a time when divisiveness is on the rise. Horizon Foundation wants to provide you with some ways to help your loved one alleviate some of the pressure they’re feeling.
- Prepare for strong feelings
- Show up with support…and receipts
- Lighten the mood
If your loved one is feeling frustrated with events occurring within the United States democratic institutions, they will almost certainly feel heightened anxiety or stress around the consequences and impact of election results. Before the 2016 presidential election, the American Psychological Association released their Stress in America Survey, which found 52% of American adults reported the election was a “very" or "somewhat significant" source of stress. This impact was statistically equal among registered Democrats and Republicans, and for men and women.
Campaigning for the 2024 presidential election is underway, so your loved one may be feeling heightened anxiety around the consequences of the pending results. Once again, we are experiencing a presidential election where many people feel the election is so significant that the entire country will be in turmoil if the results are not in favor of their preferred candidate or party.
Listen to your loved one when they share their thoughts and try to guide the conversation so it is feelings focused. Help your loved one identify the emotions that come up when discussing or thinking about the upcoming election. Ask guiding questions that center your loved one’s daily experience.
“It might just be me, but you seem to get very upset when discussing current events. Would you like to share how these events have been making you feel?”
Sometimes conversations can feel heavier than anticipated. If you’re not comfortable, ask to pause the conversation. You can maintain boundaries that feel healthy for you too – let them know when you will be able to engage again or help them find another person to talk to.
In some instances, your loved one may be experiencing fear around voting. It may be their first time, or they may have a fear of confrontation or large crowds at the polls. Whatever the reason, listen, validate, and support them. Supporting a loved one who is experiencing stress around voting does not mean you have to agree with their view, or the information they are presenting. Simply listening and sharing empathy for the feelings they are having can be enough.
Suggest that your loved one mails in their ballot. Every state allows mail-in voting. Here in Howard County, any registered voter may vote a mail-in ballot, but you must first submit an application to the Maryland State Board of Elections. If your loved one lives outside of Maryland, they are still eligible to mail in their ballot, but deadlines and rules on who can take part vary. It may be helpful to your loved one to find the options for mail-in voting in their state. If your loved one is unable to mail in their ballot, but still wishes to exercise their right to vote, offer to go with them to the polls. If you are also eligible to vote in the same location, you can go together to your polling location.
The state of Maryland allows voters with disabilities to bring in nearly anyone they trust – a friend, a family member, a neighbor – to help them vote. Voters may not bring a boss or a representative of their labor union or employer. Eligible voters may include people with a physical disability as well as people with a hard time reading English. If you are going to help a loved one vote in Maryland, you must sign the Voter Assistance Form at the polling location.
If you and your loved one do not live close enough to vote together, you can offer to help them find local community groups that will be heading to the polls together. Voting caravans are often organized by churches or other faith-based organizations, schools, and various community groups. Your local election office can be a great resource.
When researching voting groups, it may be best to avoid selecting a group that is voting on behalf of a particular candidate or party and focus on groups that are simply trying to mobilize general voting in their state or local municipality.
If the fear and anxiety your loved one is experiencing is causing them so much pressure they do not wish to vote, that is their right. However, it may be helpful to remind them that while today’s political climate in the U.S. feels unprecedented, many of the themes that drive current events have played a factor in our elections for a very long time. Talk with them about the history of voting in the U.S. and consider the significant physical and emotional hurdles that many people in America, specifically Black Americans and women, have had to face in order to get the right to vote.
Throughout the history of the nation, millions of people have shown up to exercise their civic duty in a time when the country was experiencing great turmoil. People who vote in the United States have done so while living amid economic decline, war, violence, and political unrest. Voting is a key element of U.S. democracy, and the act of voting itself is a milestone for many populations in the country.
Conversations about voting and our current political climate can be heavy and cause friction in relationships. Before approaching a conversation with a loved one about politics or voting, it can be helpful to set the mood and have your personal boundaries in mind. Try to have the conversation in a private setting or one where there is room for you to speak without others being able to hear and interject. Offer to go for a walk or chat at either of your homes over refreshments.
A person’s vote reflects their hopes, values, and even their fears. Recognizing when a conversation will have a lasting negative impact on a relationship is important. If you notice the conversations you’re having with your loved one are making them (or you) feel more stressed, it’s ok to try and guide the discussion to another topic.
“I don’t think I am the best person to support you with these feelings. Have you considered talking to a professional or someone else you trust about how you feel?”
An emotional support human can also help their loved one after their vote has been cast. If you are going to the polls with your loved one, or you’re able to connect with them after they vote, give them the opportunity to process the experience. After you hit the polls, grab a coffee, visit a spa, exercise, or play a game. If you need help finding local events, check out Howard County’s website for fall fun in the area. If you are unable to physically see your loved one after the polls close, set up a time to chat with them.
While you’re enjoying yourselves or talking, ask your loved one how the experience of voting felt and provide encouragement, despite the outcome of the election, for participating in the country’s political process. That is something to be celebrated.
While we cannot control all the events that are shaping the country, it is imperative that we support one another through them. Being an emotional support human means navigating challenging conversations, and Horizon Foundation is here whenever you need resources for how to stay the course. Together, our efforts make a difference.