With the election just around the corner, you may find yourself doomscrolling through your newsfeed, having difficulty sleeping, or feeling particularly anxious about the future of the country. If so, know that you are not alone. According to the American Psychology Association, 76 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of independents are experiencing a significant amount of stress due to the upcoming 2020 elections. The issue is so prevalent that there is even a name for this overwhelming feeling: election stress disorder (ESD).
Signs of Election Stress Disorder
Coined by psychologist Steven Stosny, PhD during the 2016 election, election stress disorder is the heightened sense of anxiety and helplessness one feels surrounding the election. It can manifest in a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including:
- Tension in shoulders
- Upset stomach
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty focusing
- Mood swings
Ways to Cope with Election Stress and Anxiety
If the elections have you feeling on edge, or if turning on the news causes you to tense up, try the following tips.
- Manage Your News Intake: Staying up to date on all the latest news is easier than ever, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Constantly monitoring the news can trigger your body’s stress response and be detrimental to your overall health. While staying informed is important, you should limit the time you spend watching or reading the news to one block of time a day, such as while having breakfast or right before dinner. This allows you to stay informed without becoming overwhelmed. You should also avoid watching the news before going to bed and do a relaxing activity instead, such as reading a book, meditating, or even watching your favorite comedy show. This will allow your mind to unwind, enabling you to get a good night’s rest.
- Spend Quality Time with Loved Ones: From presidential debates to protests nationwide, America has never been so divided. This divisiveness can leave you feeling angry, exhausted, and alone, which is why it is critical to surround yourself with loved ones who can help you feel at ease. While they don’t need to have the same political affiliations as you, make sure that you are not surrounding yourself with people who will exacerbate your anxiety but rather quell it. Although Covid-19 can make getting together with friends and family a challenge, you can find ways to connect and have fun together virtually, whether it’s by having a Netflix watch party or a virtual game night.
- Focus on the Present: As the election nears an end, you are probably wondering who will win and what will happen if your candidate loses the election. Will there be protests, or will it be a smooth transition? How will new policies impact your life? This level of uncertainty for the future can feel paralyzing, which is why it is so important to try to focus on day-to-day activities rather than spend your time wondering about what is to come. Staying present is especially important this year, as experts say election results will likely be delayed due to the number of mail-in ballots. If you are constantly worrying about what might happen, try embracing mindfulness techniques such as practicing breathing exercises, meditating, disconnecting from technology and spending time in nature, and making a gratitude list.
- Remember What You Can Control: While your vote certainly matters, you don’t have control over the results of the election, and it is that lack of control that can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress. But just because you can’t handpick the next president doesn’t mean that you should give up all hope. There are many ways you can have an impact that will not only improve your community but help you feel more in control of your life. Some ways that you can take back control include getting involved in local politics and volunteering for social or environmental causes that you are passionate about. You can also focus on doing things closer to your home, such as finding ways to give back and support friends and family.
Regardless of your political affiliation, one thing we can all agree on is that the upcoming elections have been stressful and divisive. Whether you are tired of hearing about the elections or are experiencing added stress, anxiety, or depression, practicing self-care is more important than ever. This is particularly true if you are in recovery from substance use disorder, as added stress is a common trigger. No matter what the results of the election are, remember to take care of yourself and your mental health, and never be afraid to reach out for help.