“I plan on drinking a little bit of whisky, neat. I am probably going to take some kind of edible, like a gummy,” said Perkins, who plans on going to bed early. “I’m going to try my best to feel good.”
She’s not alone in wanting to avoid stress. Even by 2020′s standards, election night and the days that follow are expected to be intense.
Political experts warn the massive shift to mail-in voting could mean there’s no clear winner in the presidential race on election night or even for days after. Politicians could also try to take advantage of any delay in results to sow confusion and doubt in the legitimacy of the election, possibly through social media posts.
For some, the historic event is going to be an irresistible chance to scroll through Twitter, light up group chats and leave the news humming in the background on a TV. For others, it’s the perfect opportunity to practice some self-care instead of stressing out for hours, or maybe even days. People are going camping, turning off devices for digital detoxes, planning nice meals and movie nights, taking anti-anxiety meds and going to sleep early.
Lilja Klempan, 32, is headed to a yurt in the woods. The executive assistant is leaving her home in Oakland a few days before the election and driving north to Somes Bar, Calif., a remote town with a population of around 200 people. For two weeks, she and her boyfriend will live in a yurt he built on land near the river, not far from his mother’s home. There’s no cellphone service or electric heat in the structure, just a wood stove, a small kitchen and an epic view of the mountains. They aren’t ignoring the election completely.
“We will have [nearby] Internet access to find out the results, but I think it will be nice to be out there on the land chopping firewood kind of to get away from all of it,” Klempan said. If the election outcome isn’t what she hoped for, she has a plan for that, too. “It will be frustrating, but then I can take my frustration out on a piece of wood with an ax.”
Avoiding the news these days can be nearly impossible. Even people with the self-control to step away from social media during the largest news event of the year still have to avoid push notifications and texts or calls from family members.
Like Perkins, novelist Bill Cameron plans on using technology to avoid technology. He pays for a service called Freedom that he normally uses to block his Internet access for 20 minutes at a time while writing. The 56-year-old says the tool is purposefully difficult to disable, eliminating the temptation to just take a quick peek at the news. At 5 p.m. Tuesday, he is going to set it for six hours and watch a scary movie, which he says is horrifying in a different way.
“I have to feel like there’s closure before I find out,” said Cameron, who remembers the roller coaster of the 2016 election night vividly. “If I can keep myself distracted as long as possible, I’m going to.”
He is also saving up chores to give him something to do that evening. He’s already amassing a pile of laundry and — luckily for Cameron — Tuesday is the night he takes out the garbage at his Eugene, Ore., home.
Staying busy can help us manage our stress, according to Jonathan Horowitz, a clinical psychologist and founder of the San Francisco Stress and Anxiety Center. He recommends people keep their normal engagements and work appointments on Election Day and the days after to avoid focusing too much on the news.
For people who already struggle with anxiety, getting sucked into something like scrolling through Twitter can make it worse, Horowitz said.
“They’re looking for something they never quite get, and it just gives them more compulsivity around it. It sparks anxiety, and then you want something that’s going to relieve your anxiety,” Horowitz said. He instead recommended setting boundaries for checking phones.
The stress of the election isn’t limited to domestic viewers. The contest is being closely watched by U.S. citizens in countries around the world.
“Living in Sweden hasn’t made it any easier to avoid getting wrapped up in this election,” said Alden Conant, a U.S. citizen who already sent in her absentee ballot, in a message. The country will be six hours ahead of the East Coast, so results won’t come in until after she’s asleep. But she’s often up at night and would normally get a head start on U.S. news in the morning.
She worries the day’s coverage will be extra anxiety inducing, especially if there isn’t a clear landslide one way or another, and is planning a digital detox until at least the day after the election. A new mom, Conant is going to turn off all social media and news notifications, and use the time to take peaceful walks outside.
“I don’t plan on burying my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to scroll and refresh endlessly in the middle of the night when I’m up with my baby,” said Conant, 38, who moved to Stockholm more than three years ago with her Swedish husband. “Tuning in before the dust has settled won’t get me anywhere.”
Avoiding election night doesn’t mean people are less invested in its outcome. In fact, many who are planning on stepping away from the news cycle have been actively supporting campaigns with donations and time. But they recognize that on election night, finally, there is very little they can do.
“If you live your life in constant stress and constant panic, you’re not going to be able to help people,” said Nikki Nolan, a senior product designer at messaging company Slack. “Like on a plane, you have to put on your mask first.”
In September, after months of obsessively checking social media and avoiding going outside, Nolan bought a camper van. She recently left her home in Berkeley, Calif., dropped off her ballot and drove to Joshua Tree National Park to camp. The day before the election, she and her partner will head to the Mojave Desert where they will spend days off the grid, away from cell networks, hiking and looking at the stars. Her big election night plan is cooking shish kebabs.
“I feel like everything is slowly crashing into the ground, and you know what, I don’t have real control over any of that. I’m going to go out into the desert and try to enjoy life,” Nolan, 35, said.
At the Zen Mountain Monastery, located on 230-acres of lush land in the Catskill Mountains, residents will spend election night meditating before going to bed at their normal lights-out time of 9:30 p.m. Like most of the residents, Abbot Geoffrey Shugen Arnold says he won’t be checking any technology that night, other than turning in for a Zoom session they’re leading entitled “A Refuge for Election Week.”
The community is staying up with the daily news and is attuned and responsive to what’s going on in the world. But Arnold urges them to take a step back when they consume breaking news, to see the difference between reality and what’s happening in their mind.
He believes that whatever happens on Tuesday, people should take a moment away from the frenzy to turn inward for a moment. Take a deep breath.
“Have faith in human nature and the ebb and flow of history,” Arnold said. “We are certainly being called to respond in ways to bring forth kindness and compassion.”