The American presidential campaigns have been stressful for many people. Hormones mediate stress in our bodies, but we have a lot of control over them as well. Here are three ways that the election may be contributing to your hormonal fluctuations, for both men and women:
1. Activating trust and distrust simultaneously – For whatever you might trust about the candidate for whom you are voting, there are also reasons to distrust each of them. Many people are voting against one candidate rather than for the other one. According to Judith Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence, when trust and distrust are activated simultaneously, the uncertainty makes us more likely to fall into whatever is the “group think” mentality around us. If you are uncertain and surrounded by Trump supporters, you are more likely to align with them, because it feels safe. The same thing goes if you are surrounded by Clinton supporters.
2. Reducing Oxytocin – Oxytocin is well-known as the hormone that is released with breastfeeding and helps mothers and babies bond. Oxytocin is produced in then brain, and in the heart. Our hearts make as much oxytocin as our brains do. Not only does oxytocin make us feel bonded to others, it helps define the boundary between ourselves and others. It also makes us think more positively of others when they disagree with us.
3. Addicted to being right – When we are convinced we are right, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our brains. It feels fantastic to be right, doesn’t it? However, the person on the other side of the conversation may be having an overflow of cortisol, a stress hormone. How do you feel when you watch Clinton or Trump talk about their perspectives? Does it make you anxious?
Here are five ways to reduce stress, build confidence, and broaden your perspective:
1. Power Pose: Put Amy Cuddy’s popular TED Talk into action. Stand like Wonder Woman, with your hands on your hips, in a widened stance, for two minutes. This has been shown to increase testosterone levels and decrease cortisol levels. You don’t have to do it in front of anyone for it to work. Do it in a bathroom stall if needed. No matter where you do it, you will feel better afterward.
2. Breathe Through Your Heart: The HeartMath Institute has shown that heart-centered breathing can increase oxytocin levels and improve your heart rate variability, a well-established measure of how well your body is regulating stress. To do this, bring your attention to the area around your heart. As you inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth, imagine the breathing is taking place through your heart. Repeat for at least one minute, and longer as needed. You can do this in any situation. You don’t have to be meditating to do this. It works in the middle of a run as well.
3. Appreciate: You can strengthen your oxytocin levels with a gratitude journal, a focus wheel, or just breathing the feeling of appreciation through your heart as you do the above HeartMath activity.
4. Find Common Ground: You can ado what I call a “common ground” exercise. I have a relative that I have never met, except through Facebook. He is everything that I am not, politically speaking. I unfriended him because of his toxic banter. It wasn’t thoughtful disagreement, it was full of hate. While watching all of his spiteful rants on social media, I was unable to believe anything good about him. However, I can see that he loves his family, he wants to feel safe in his country, and he wants a more prosperous life for himself – goals that most humans share.
5. Lead with your heart: It is important to think through any decision, but it may be more important to feel your way through a decision. This is how Native Americans and traditional cultures worked for centuries. I find the Grinch, from Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, a good modern day model for this. When you think about a decision, does it make your heart grow three sizes, or shrink three sizes? Consider your internal GPS is guiding you toward the things that make your heart grow.
You are in full control of your hormonal and emotional state. What are you doing to help it today?