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Keeping Perspective on the Presidential Election

How to keep your cool as campaigns and their coverage reach fever pitch.

One more week and we’ll know who the next president of the United States will be.

Is it just me, or has this presidential campaign season been especially tense and polarized?

Listen to Fox News and you’ll hear outrage about what Obama has wrought and passionate arguments for Romney being the only one to save the U.S. from certain wrack and ruin.

Listen to MSNBC and you’ll hear outrage at the backward notions of the Romney/Ryan ticket and passionate arguments for Obama’s impressive record and the promise of continuing to move forward over the next four years under his leadership.

Relentless campaign ads echo this outrage and passion, with opposing slogans: "Take America Back" versus "Moving Forward."

If you listen to the hype and believe the worst-case scenarios, you’ll feel outrage too, and be a passionate advocate for your chosen candidate. If you’re still undecided, you may feel confused and unsure. You want to do your part by casting your vote for the best guy. But who’s that?

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As we head into the final lap and the crowd roars, here are a dozen tips for maintaining serenity and holding onto hope for the next four years, regardless of who wins.

Don’t buy into the fear-mongering. Don’t believe all the dire warnings of what will happen if the “other guy” wins. Remind yourself that political ads, talking heads, and news shows that have an agenda are trying to appeal to your emotions so that you’ll invest in—and more importantly, vote for—their candidate. If you’re feeling riled up, this is a sure sign that they are preying on your fears. Resist falling for it, and seek out balanced and fair reporting that helps you determine for yourself what you think about the issues.

Be occupied, not preoccupied. If you find yourself preoccupied with the election, divert that energy toward something more productive. Tackle your to-do list, get some exercise, call a friend, play with your kids, cook a good meal, or engage in a favorite pastime.

Turn off the media machine and stop listening to the polls. The only poll that truly matters is the final count of the millions and millions of actual votes cast and how they fall into the Electoral College. It simply doesn’t matter what a random handful of folks report to an anonymous pollster on any given day.

Laugh. If you are a political junkie (and even if you aren’t), relieve your stress with laughter by tuning into Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (both on Comedy Central) or catch Saturday Night Live (NBC). These entertainers and their sharp writers make fun of both camps, including yours. Laughing at your own team is what can be most beneficial.

Keep a balanced perspective. This country has never been pushed off the rails or run off a cliff by any president. You may disagree with a particular president’s policy, principle, and judgment, but the Constitution and Bill of Rights will remain standing.

Trust the system. The Founding Fathers created three branches of government specifically for the checks and balances it offers, and to ensure that no president will have the power to become an autocratic ruler, such as a king or dictator who exercises absolute authority. Plus, four or eight years is not enough time to see any single-minded vision come to fruition. Finally, the president doesn’t have as much effect on everyone and everything as the campaigns would like you to think. For example, economic forecasters predicted back in August that we are headed toward impressive job growth—as in 12 million new jobs—regardless of who takes office.

If you’re undecided, focus on the big picture. Don’t get caught up in the details of who’s got which plan for doing what. Focus on what values, ideals, and philosophies each candidate stands for. Look beyond the rhetoric to the person, because actions speak louder than words. Look at objective reports of public service, levels of integrity, trustworthiness, leadership, and diplomacy skills. Who do you think leads the most honorable life?

Acknowledge the common ground we all share. Both candidates support the ideals of pursuing happiness, good health, and prosperity, and if voted into office, neither man will try to take those ideals away from you.

Focus on what you can do. Vote. Be the change you want to see in the world. Be part of the village that raises the children. Be active in your community, making it a kinder, gentler place to live.

Continue to live your life. Your day-to-day existence is so much bigger and more compelling to you than the national political scene. Especially if you live on the East Coast, you’ve been reminded of the importance of living in the present moment and being grateful for blessings big and small. And you will prevail regardless of who’s living in the White House.

Avoid watching election-day coverage. Following this advice is akin to ignoring the polls. Unless you thrive on suspense and minute-to-minute breathlessness, spare yourself the agony and tune in after the final results are declared.

Celebrate regardless of who wins. On election night, even if “the other side” wins, remember that victory belongs to us all— because we live in a democracy, get to express ourselves freely, and have the right to vote.

Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and author of 6 books, including one about perinatal hospice titled A Gift of Time.

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