Episode #53: Election Day


Election day is here and the possibilities are open-ended. With big decisions being made that will affect our lives as a whole, intentional self-care and coping strategies will help us more than ever to adapt to the uncertainty and ultimate outcome. The effect trauma can have on our lives is evident in our work, our relationships, and deep within ourselves. As overwhelming as #2020 has been, there are things you can do to support your nervous system, mitigate your trauma reaction, and restore your equilibrium. In this podcast episode, I will reveal my suggestions for supporting each other, our communities, and ourselves, in the coming months.



Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.


This episode is being recorded for release on Election Day. 

I voted yesterday. And I was struck by the heaviness in my chest. On one hand, I have benefited throughout my life with an ability to see around corners. On the other hand, I generally try to approach each day one at a time. . . not trying to get too far ahead of myself and wrapped up in things that may or may not transpire. 

Even so, my brain (and my body) were running through the scenarios . . . 

Option 1 . . . Election is “called” on November 3rd. Depending on the outcome, individuals may have a trauma response to the results.

Option 2 . . . Election outcome is “too close to call”, particularly given the number of mail-in ballots expected this year. 

Option 3 . . . Election outcome is not only too close to call, but is extended indefinitely by court challenges at the state and ultimately the federal level. 

Option 4 . . . Election results are final and one or more “sides” erupts in protest and/or violence. 

This may not even be a complete list of scenarios, but here is one likely outcome . . .no matter what happens, one or more populations in this country will be experiencing fear, yet ANOTHER DOSE of uncertainty in #2020 and potentially, likely even, a trauma reaction. 

I had a trauma reaction to the results in 2016. And no, this is not a “political” post in the traditional sense. So hang with me. 

I was raised in a world in which we were generally taught to separate “politics” from “life.” But what is also true is that politicians have been using fear as both a carrot and a stick for decades. . . extolling all of the terrible things that could happen to us and the people we love, or the things we hold dear if the “other” candidate is elected. 

And more recently, the lines between politics and “life” have been blurred as we all have almost immediate access (through social media) to the consequences (both direct and indirect) of words used by political leaders and the results of their policies. 

We are essentially primed for a trauma response. As a reminder, “a traumatic event includes anything that overwhelms the person’s nervous system and ability to cope. When this happens, the body is unable to metabolize the stress or event and the disturbing experience becomes “stuck in the person’s nervous system.” ~Aundi Kolber

Most of us have been chronically overwhelmed by #2020. At a global, national, societal, and personal level. I shared an article this week from UC Davis on COVID fatigue (on my IG and Facebook). And this is just a piece of the puzzle in 2020. 

So while many of us may be primed by our previous experiences to have a trauma response to the Election, for others, the outcome may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. As with most traumatic experiences, some effects are seen almost immediately and some don’t materialize until much later. The initial disruption created by these events can be swift and devastating. It permeates all aspects of our lives, increasing risk factors for further trauma to individuals, communities and businesses, particularly those that were already at risk. The impact won’t reverse simply by getting back to work. For some, returning to work may be further traumatizing if they must do so before they feel safe and secure. 

Our body’s response to chronic or toxic stress, anxiety, burnout, and trauma has a shared result -- our ability to access the executive functions that live in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain is short-circuited because our brain stem thinks we are in imminent danger and shunts all of our resources to critical functions like breathing. When this happens we struggle, or find it impossible, to organize and prioritize work, maintain focus, access memory, regulate and process our emotions, regulate actions and impulses, sustain alertness, and maintain consistent effort over time. 

I have used this example before. It is designed around the workplace, but applies to our communities and personal lives as well:

Imagine you are an employer and you have 100 employees. 50-60 of those employees have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. 

*And these are pre-Covid numbers*

Between 4-10 of them may be living with PTSD, and the others may be struggling but not to the point of a PTSD diagnosis; assuming they got help in the first place. 

Imagine that you need those employees to be able to discern the difference between different types of risk. 

Imagine that you need them to be able to regulate their emotions, avoid mistakes, recall information and regulate their impulses.

Imagine that you need them to stay healthy and avoid chronic or fatal conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, immune diseases, and cancer. 

Imagine that you need them to make healthy coping choices as opposed to becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol, work, sex, gambling, etc. 

(By the way the correlation between addiction and trauma is SIGNIFICANT).

Imagine you need those employees to make judgment calls, show up to work on time every day, interact appropriately with each other and members of the public.

In March 2020, 7 of 10 employees reported that the pandemic was the most stressful time of their entire professional career. And the rate at which women are leaving the workforce, because they can no longer divide their energies between the demands of work and the demands of home (in the Covid world), are astounding. Examples of workplace related trauma include: 

  • Workplace accidents

  • Workplace violence

  • Acute stress due to downsizing, lay-offs, and company closings

  • Bullying 

  • Gaslighting

Examples of trauma outside of work include:

  • Random acts of violence or terrorism

  • Childhood trauma

  • Sexual violence

  • Racial violence

  • Bullying

  • Gaslighting

When we think about the workplace, and the waterfall impact of chronic stress and trauma . . . the increased stress and trauma cause absenteeism. Increased absenteeism (or downsizing) causes more stress for the rest of the workforce, which can lead to more accidents or near misses. This is because when our systems are stressed and overworked, our ability to problem-solve, make rational decisions, and process information decreases, leading us to taking chances one might not otherwise take. Employees who are caught up in a traumatic stress, chronic stress or burnout response may not even be aware of his/her/their actions, because a common reaction to traumatic stress is risk behavior that, in the moment, seems normal or okay to the individual. 

As of the date of this podcast release, the COVID numbers are back on the rise. And it is Election Day in an election cycle that is fully loaded for a significant portion of the country no matter which side you find yourself on. 

So what can we do to support each other today, and in the coming weeks or months? I am going to review things we can do for ourselves, and the individuals in our lives, and also the things that we can do from an organizational perspective. Some of this information is a repeat from a podcast I released over the summer. But I find it to be just as important today as it was then. 

First . . . when dealing with individuals (with ourselves or within our relationships). . .  

#1 Resist the temptation to “compare” traumas.

Because our emotional and physiological response to trauma lives in our nervous, hormonal, digestive, and other systems of the body, it isn’t helpful or productive to “compare” traumas. My endocrine system doesn’t care that I may not “have it as bad” as someone else. Now my brain, IF the pre-frontal cortex is engaged, may be able to draw a distinction, but the rest of my body (the part that is dealing with an onslaught of adrenaline and cortisol) doesn’t know and cannot suddenly “feel” better because I was sure to compare my experience to someone else’s experience in order to downplay whatever I was feeling. The same is true of downplaying someone else’s experience. 

And this is a BIG IF by the way. Because if my body has decided that I am in imminent danger based on the signals it is receiving, I can’t access my pre-frontal cortex anyway. Fight, flight or freeze or fawn is winning the day until I am able to down-regulate my nervous system. Speaking of down-regulating your nervous system, my 7 Tips for Managing Anxiety and staying well in a crisis (and beyond) can do just that. You can access those by listening to Episode 39 of the podcast or hopping on over to http://boothandrews.com/7tipsforcalm and get a free download. 

#2 “We don’t heal wounds by pretending they don’t exist.” ~Matt Haig

Wounds that we ignore fester until they become poison to our body. Sounds over-dramatic? It isn’t. It is my lived experience. Unprocessed emotions get locked into the body on a cellular level. Ignoring them will just make them worse. Much is written about the connection between unhealed trauma and chronic, debilitating and sometimes fatal illness. If you are struggling, practice self-compassion. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love who is struggling or feeling afraid. Be kind and gentle. Tend to yourself as if you have a wound. Because you do. 

#3 If you are unable to access your emotions, start with sensations in the body.

By the time I landed at a TIMBO facilitator training outside of Boston in 2015 my body felt like a perpetual storm. But I didn’t know that emotions present themselves in the body as sensations. 

I didn’t know that my grief and anxiety felt like nausea. 

And the burning in my heart was anger and resentment. 

That my neck and shoulders couldn’t release under the fear. 

And my throat was constricted because I felt stuck.

I didn’t know that my indigestion was shame. 

What I did know was that during this same period of my life, I was treated for TMJ, heartburn, gained about 30 lbs, had a full heart work up, and was borderline hypertensive (even though my normal blood pressure is so low sometimes that I cannot donate blood). 

In my tips for calm, I recommend spending 5 minutes a day naming our emotions. But if accessing your emotions is hard for you (or perhaps even feels impossible) start with sensations. 

Do you feel:

•Tight in your hips, neck, back or shoulders

•Heaviness in your chest

•Are you sweating

•Do you have a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach

•Are you susceptible to chronic infections in some part of your body

•Are you having digestive issues or abdominal discomfort

•Are you hot or cold

•Are you experiencing difficulty with your vision or hearing

•Does part of your body feel numb

For now, you don’t have to understand where these sensations are coming from unless your inner voice says “get yourself to the doctor please!” For now, just notice them. Write them down. Our sensations are a gateway to our emotional world. 

#4 Send your body signals of safety

The exercises I included at boothandrews.com/7tipsforcalm are all exercises that can be used to send the body signals of safety. In essence, whenever we take time to breathe, to return to our present moment, to notice our 5 senses, etc., we are sending the brain a signal that we must not actually be in imminent danger. This is because if we were, we would not be paying attention to those things!! There are other tips too, such noticing gravity holding us to th ground, shaking or dancing our bodies to discharge extra energy, breathing into our back ribs, crawling under a cozy blanket, making ourselves a warm drink, or cuddling with a pet or loved one, etc. 

Whenever we are talking about resources we need to access in times of stress, I like to encourage people to make a list and post it somewhere they can find it. Because I have found that when I am living in fight, flight or freeze, I used to forget what helps me feel safe and calm. Now, I have used my tools more often and so I am naturally drawn to them when I start to feel anxious and unsafe. But if this is new practice for you, make a list as you experience things that do help you feel calmer. That way, you can access that list whenever you need it.

#5 Safe places

When I am feeling overwhelmed and like my nervous system is revving, I retreat to the basement of my house. As much as I would love to have some natural light in my basement, I find being surrounded by concrete walls is calming for my nervous system. One of my other favorite places when I am feeling overwhelmed is the corner of a couch. I feel more protected there. Is there a place in your home or at work that feels particularly safe? Or maybe it is your favorite coffee shop. Or a local park?
Make a mental note of the places that feel safe to you. Whether because of the characteristics of the place or of the people that are in  it. And know you can access those safe spaces when you need them. 

#6 Safe people

Who are the safe people in your life? The ones who love you unconditionally, who show up when the going gets tough, who are gentle and kind and respectful? Make a list. Check on them and ask them to check on you. If you can, meet up for a walk outside or even facetime if you cannot get together. It is okay to filter out the people who are unsafe. Even if for whatever reason you cannot completely filter them out of your life, you can turn down the volume on the people who are unsafe for you until your body has a chance to regain equilibrium. More safe people please. 

When I came home from voting yesterday, I drank two cups of water (because I know that being dehydrated causes a stress response in the body and because I also know that I have a tendency not to drink enough water). Thankfully, I have surrounded myself with safe communities at this point in my life, and my law firm is one of those places. I hopped on my law firm check-in and we were able to talk about the things we are all experiencing. And I reached out to a group of friends and invited them over to the house tomorrow (the day after the election). Just an Open House to come by and check-in/connect when we all may have an election (not yet decided and possibly to be litigated or otherwise challenged) hangover. 

But what can we do for our communities and organizations? 

•Educate leaders (and ultimately the staff at every level) about trauma, ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), the impact of trauma on individuals and organizations, and trauma-informed principles. I will link information about the ACEs study in the show-notes. The ACEs study established a direct correlation between adverse childhood experiences and poor long-term health outcomes. You can find information about trauma-informed principles in Episodes 43 and 45 of the podcast. 

•Embrace open and honest communication with employees about the challenges they are facing; you don’t have to agree to provide empathy; Brené Brown has a GREAT video on empathy that I am linking in the transcript.
Brené Brown on Empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

•Normalize conversations around mental health and well-being. Make it OK to tell the truth about how we are. 

•Acknowledge feelings and experiences (you don’t have to “fix” anything, You just have to offer empathy, support, and create safety).

•Communicate early and often with transparency (direct, meaningful and respectful language).

•Provide a range of readily available resources and tools (if you aren’t sure where to start, ask your benefit providers as they likely have information at their fingertips).

•Establish predictability and control wherever possible (recognize and support skills and expertise that strengthen personal ownership, the ability to make decisions and to have choices).

The factors for internal and external resilience, coping with and recovering from trauma are: 

  • Hope

  • Connection

  • Sharing

  • Time

  • Self-care

Adopting trauma-informed principles in your personal and professional circles ultimately: 

  • Promotes individual and organizational healing through connection and community

  • Builds trust and an empowered and engaged workforce

  • Promotes resilience and adaptability

  • Creates safe, inclusive environments

  • (Long-term) reduces costs associated with toxic stress, burnout, mental health, and comorbidities

  • Supports overall individual and organization well-being (and ultimately performance)

With awareness and intentionality we can actually come out of #2020 stronger than ever before. 

I will be here. Breathing with you. 


Thank you for listening today. And, if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe and rate, you make it easier for other people to find this content. 

I look forward to being back with you next time!