Alyssa Mancao, a licensed clinical social worker, took an interest in social work when she realized that the concepts of human connection, empathy, and advocacy have always been at the center of her work. After receiving a B.A. in sociology and a master's in social work, she worked in community mental health in the outpatient and residential treatment setting for seven years. This experience has led her to begin a private practice in 2016 in sunny California, where she helps patients treat anxiety, depression, and trauma and connect with their inner child to heal old emotional wounds.
While this kind of work has become increasingly important—especially over the past year, due to the pandemic and the election—Mancao also believes that there are alternative pathways to working on one's emotional health and needs at little to no cost. "It is my goal to build a group practice that has the capacity to also offer compassionate care and multiple pro bono or low-cost slots for underserved communities," the California resident tells HelloGiggles.
Mancao has also been trying to pace herself by taking one day at a time to deal with the stress hangover that was caused by the election. "I create a semblance of routine that brings me a sense of peace and balance throughout the day," she says. "With this, I tune into shows that are guaranteed to bring me joy, and I also connect with friends that feel like home. This means that I am able to show up as myself—laugh, cry, vent, etc."
For this week’s Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Mancao to learn more about her journey and relationship with the stress related to the election, her go-to self-care rituals, and her advice on how to handle post-election hangovers.
HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with the election over the past couple of months impacted your mental health?
Alyssa Mancao (AM): For the most part, in the past couple months, my relationship with the election has been well. I am focusing on what it is that I can control, which is having conversations with loved ones about what is important to me (healthcare, social inequality, the working class, etc.) and helping them understand what I know of these issues, both from personal and professional experience. I have also placed my energy into having thoughtful conversations with peers and colleagues about the various props on the ballots to remain informed.
Now, when it comes to the last few weeks, I have absolutely felt frustration and sadness about the very important issues at hand that are either being dismissed or ignored. The gaslighting from various individuals around the issues have been exhausting, yet I ground myself in hope.
HG: What are some practices or regimens you'd suggest others do if they feel like they have an "election hangover" and it’s affecting their mental health?
AM: First, I encourage people to reflect on past self-care exercises that have worked for them and to turn to those exercises. Do you normally journal? Do you rest? Do you take long baths? Carve out time to engage in that activity. Secondly, I encourage people to log off from social media and/or electronic devices for a while and to ground themselves in nature or safe outside activities. It can be helpful to get off of the internet and into the present moment that’s directly in front of you. Give your mind and body a chance to disconnect so that you can give your nervous system a chance to self-soothe.
If you need to, give yourself permission to vent, cry, and express your feelings to safe and trusted people. Give yourself permission to practice self-compassion: “It makes sense that I’m feeling this way…I can get through these emotions; I don’t have to rush through them.” Connect with people who feel safe, talk to them about what you’re going through, and, if your heart calls, partner with and support organizations whose missions and values align with yours to increase your sense of purpose and hope in what is happening during these times. More than anything, be kind to yourself. A hangover from the election can include feelings like anxiety, sadness, shock, irritability, and overall tiredness. When these feelings come up, a helpful activity to engage in is rest.
HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately to help you connect with your body during this time?
AM: One to two times a week I have been walking up and down these public stairs that are located within walking distance from my home. I put on some music or a podcast, and I walk the stairs for my cardiovascular exercise. I’ll also do a 30-minute interval workout at home using some resistance bands. I’ve found that moving my body in this way has been grounding for me and allows me to ease into my day. It’s also during this time that I process what I need to do for the rest of the day.
In addition to those physical activities, I rest. I give myself permission to rest when my body asks me to, and I do my best to incorporate stretching during the week. We often overlook the importance of rest. However, being able to mindfully lay down and pay attention to the sensations in my body can be a deeply restorative activity.
HG: How do you suggest others physically connect with their bodies if they feel disconnected due to post-election stress?
AM: Go for a walk, be in nature, hike, swim, run, do yoga, stretch, dance...anything that prioritizes pleasure. I suggest that people engage in any activity that can offer them a semblance of peace and/or joy.
A go-to technique to help one connect their body with this earth is called “earthing,” which requires you to walk barefoot on grass or the beach (any of the earth’s surfaces) and feel the earth beneath you. Another strategy is called grounding. This is the practice of paying attention to what is happening inside and outside of you without judgment. These practices can help us get out of our thinking mind and into our physical selves.
HG: How have you tried to stay connected with loved ones during this time?
AM: With my family in the Philippines, I connect with them through Facebook Messenger. We do our best to check in, especially during these times. With my friends and loved ones who are local, there has been an effort to connect via texting, calls, and video chats. I’ve indulged in the creativity of this season by attending drive-by birthdays, baby showers, and wedding celebrations. I give myself permission to seek support when I need it, and I make sure to pour into my own cup when I’m running low emotionally so that I can be there for others.
HG: Likewise, how have you tried to support your community during this time?
AM: By taking care of myself. I can only show up for my clients and my community if I am taking care of myself first. I have also been able to provide limited pro bono slots for clients that have fallen into economic hardship during the pandemic. I’ve continued to provide free mental health content daily on my Instagram page and offered weekly Q&As for the community.
HG: Are there any products that you’ve been gravitating toward lately to help with stress?
AM: Currently, I have been gravitating toward watching comedy shows on Netflix like The Office and Schitt's Creek. I’ve learned over the years that laughter brings me to a functioning baseline when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ve also increased my journaling during the week. In the evenings, I’ll listen to meditation guides using the app Insight Timer.