Useful Tips on How to Cope with Election Stress
Feeling stress from the 2016 election cycle? A new survey shows that you are not alone. “We’re seeing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re registered as a Democrat or Republican,” says Lynn Bufka, PhD, Associate Executive Director for Practice Research and Policy for the American Psychological Association. “Across party lines, those registered as Democrats and Republicans are statistically equally likely to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.” The study by the APA also reports that social media intensifies our current emotional climate. In response to the results of their research, the organization offers some basic steps to help you cope.
Social Media and Political Issues
Confronted with one of the most adversarial elections in the history of U.S. politics, and daily coverage that has dominated every type of mass media, 52% of the American adults over the age of 18 surveyed admitted that the 2016 election has been a profound and major source of stress. Immediate access to news and opinions in our electronic age has caused this stress to spread like wildfire.
“Election stress becomes exacerbated by arguments, stories, images and video on social media that can heighten concern and frustration, particularly with thousands of comments that can range from factual to hostile or even inflammatory,” Bufka explains.
Polling for Stress
The survey demonstrates the huge impact that social media has on American stress levels when it comes to the election and related topics:
- Nearly 4 in 10 adults (38 percent) say that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress.
- Adults who use social media are more likely than adults who do not say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress (54 percent vs. 45 percent, respectively).
Men and women were almost equally likely (51 percent vs. 52 percent, respectively) to say the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been a major source of stress, but this form of stress affects generations differently. Millennials and older citizens were the most likely to see the election as a source of stress (56 percent vs. 59 percent). The numbers were somewhat lower for Generation Xers (45 percent) but not the Baby Boomers (50 percent).
Steps to Healing
The APA offers the following tips to help people manage stress related to the election:
- If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from politicians causes you stress, limit your media consumption.
- Read just enough to stay informed.
- Turn off the newsfeed or take a digital break.
- Take some time for yourself, go for a walk, or spend time with friends and family doing things that you enjoy.
- Avoid getting into discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate to conflict.
- Be aware of the frequency with which you’re discussing the election with friends, family members or coworkers.
- Remember that stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive.
- Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about.
- Consider volunteering in your community, advocating for an issue you support, or joining a local group.
- Know that in addition to the presidential election, state and local elections may provide more opportunities for civic involvement.
- Remind yourself that life will go on. Our political system and various branches of government mean that we should expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government.
- Avoid catastrophizing, and try to maintain a balanced perspective.
- By voting in other elections, you will hopefully feel you are taking a proactive step.
- Find balanced information (from multiple sources) to learn about all the issues.
Stephen Holland, a Washington, DC-based therapist, says he has never seen a presidential election as volatile this one. His clinic, the Capital Institute of Cognitive Therapy, sees more than 300 patients a week. Holland told The Atlantic, “I’d say probably two-thirds to three-quarters of our patients are mentioning their feelings about the election in sessions.
For people with anxiety or depression disorders these feelings are far more intense, he notes. “The worry and the rumination goes into overdrive and [they] can’t turn it off. The brain is going over and over again, trying to solve a problem that it can’t find a solution to. People find the fact that they’re worrying about something all the time, thinking about it all the time, to become distressing in itself. That’s what leads to insomnia. The brain is basically going, you need to be awake, you need to be alert, you need to be thinking about this because there’s a problem you need to solve.”
Anxiety and Acceptance
Taking concrete steps can help someone find a way to accept the limitations about what they can accomplish, Robert Leahy, the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, adds. Leahy also encourages worriers to focus on the structural limits of American government. “Think about the constraints or limits that all politicians face -for example, Congress and The Supreme Court,” he told The Atlantic. “Keep in mind that there are some things that you personally won’t control and worrying about them will only make you feel worse. Focus on what you can control in your daily life.”
Need More Help on How to Cope with Election Stress?
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How to Preserve Your Mental Health Despite the 2016 Election, by Robinson Meyer. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
American Psychological Association: APA Survey Reveals 2016 Presidential Election Source of Significant Stress for More Than Half of Americans. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
APA: Election Stress in America. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
Feeling anxious ahead of the debate? Here’s how to cope with ‘Election Stress Disorder’ by Colby Itkowitz. Retrieved November 9, 2016.