For a lot of people, election night is a time to hunker down in front of the TV and follow every update. Plenty of people enjoy throwing parties to watch results come in, or head to a bar or restaurant to watch in a community setting. Given that there is a literal global pandemic, practicing social distancing and avoiding crowds means we need to come up with alternatives to those group activities. Unsurprisingly, the siren call of social media is strong for people—but is it always helpful? That depends on who you ask. If you want to follow along on social media, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the thought fills you with aimless panic, you are more than welcome to opt out.
In fact, with the added weight of how incredibly important this election is, people may be craving relief from election night coverage itself. Whether you’re experiencing anxiety, burnout, or just want to gift yourself some quiet self-care, here are 10 free or low-cost things you can do instead of spending election night doomscrolling social media.
1. Read a book by someone who is not like you
What was the last book you read by a person not like yourself? What does that even mean? Maybe you, a white man, haven’t read a book by a woman of color in a long time. Maybe you’ve never read a novel by a trans woman. Maybe you, a white woman, can’t remember the last nonfiction book you read by a Native woman. Maybe you’ve never read a book by a non-binary person. There are a number of roundups for recommendations for just these sorts of reading journeys. If you have the funds to purchase a book, this is also a small effort toward shifting the scales of economic inequality among marginalized folks. But, the library is also an excellent move here, as are audiobooks. Comic books are solid fun. You could also queue up some long-read articles that have been sitting in your browser since the pandemic hit.
2. Schedule a therapy appointment
Mental health care is health care. Whether you’ve been in therapy before or not, there’s not a bad time to start. Of course, not all therapists are available at all hours, so this suggestion does require a bit of planning if you want to schedule your appointment literally on Election Day or the day after. If your election anxiety or malaise really kicks in, it’s a perfectly valid use of time to research local therapists, check out your insurance coverage, or find reduced-cost clinics in your area. There are also a number of virtual therapy sources that can be especially useful given the pandemic, or if you have disabilities that make access a barrier. And if you need support in the moment, don’t hesitate to check out free, 24/7 hotlines and text lines, including those listed below. You are not alone!
3. Take a (socially distant) walk
If you live in an area where you can safely (and with a face mask, of course) get outside for a walk, give it a try! Research shows that walking can be good for mental health. With a little planning, you may even be able to connect with a local animal shelter to walk a dog that’s up for adoption. If mobility is an issue, even sitting on the front steps or by an open window can be a relief.
4. Do some free yoga or stretches at home
One of the most freeing aspects of yoga is that you don’t need to be good at it to give it a try. There are countless free YouTube videos for all levels, including beginners and people with disabilities, that can guide you in some safe stretching. Obviously, consult with your doctor before trying new exercises!
5. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode
Not being glued to your phone at any point in 2020 sounds a little surreal, but if you’re feeling anxious, you genuinely do not need to be connected on election night. You can give people in your life a heads up that you’ll be out of reach, or direct people to email you instead. Different phones also have options for you to customize the receipt of incoming calls and texts, so a loved one could still get through to you in case of an emergency.
6. Schedule time to chat with friends or family
Okay, so the key for this approach to be effective is to chat with your people ahead of time and make sure you’re on the same page for the purpose of this interaction. Letting people know that you don’t want to talk about the election—whether it’s the way results are leaning, what states are in, what Trump has tweeted into the abyss, and so on—before you actually jump on the phone may help people resist the urge to blurt out whatever’s happening on election night. After all, some people may deal with election anxiety by talking it out. All good provided you communicate what your needs are.
7. Get comfortable in your kitchen
Remember that yeast and flour you yearned for a few weeks into the pandemic? If you were lucky enough to get your hands on some, you might try your hand at baking some bread. Or a savory dinner. Or challenge yourself to use up whatever’s in your pantry. If you truly want to be internet-free, you can always turn to a cookbook or download recipes ahead of time. You can also sort through food—making sure it’s not already expired or damaged—your family doesn’t actually want or need and see about donating it to a local shelter or mutual aid group.
8. Get free mental health support from an app or hotline
If you’re not able to meet with a personal therapist (or you are and want additional support), don’t hesitate to check out free, 24/7 support hotlines and text services. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-82559, the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741), or the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 are free, 24/7 options for support. The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 is an incredible option for LGBTQ youth, and also offers text and chat services.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is another excellent free resource, though it’s limited in availability to Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM ET. The number is 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
9. Try a guided meditation
Similar to guided yoga or stretching, there are tons of free guided meditations you can check out. Some subscription services offer apps that provide additional support for a fee, but you can find plenty for free. If you aren’t eager to try meditation, you can also try guided breathing and grounding exercises. Journaling can be helpful in combination with this, too.
10. Pull up some comfort TV
Obviously if you want a totally screen-free evening, TV isn’t the way to go. But if you do want to comfortably zone out for a few hours, there are numerous options to stream your content. If you don’t subscribe to a streaming service, YouTube actually has a ton of content available for free, including documentaries, interviews, artist talks, and more. You can also get educational and stream various talks, like TED Talks, for free online too. And just like with reading, you can support marginalized creators by actively streaming, renting, buying, or requesting their media. You can also rent DVDs from your library with a bit of planning ahead.
If you do tune in to social media, use a timer to limit how long you spend. On certain sites like Twitter, you can also mute certain words and phrases in your privacy settings to cut down on that content showing up in your feed.
If you or someone you know is in need of emotional support, don’t hesitate to contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for free, confidential help, 24/7. This number also has options for Spanish speakers and hard-of-hearing callers. You are not alone!