If your anxiety is through the roof in anticipation for this Tuesday’s presidential election, you’re not alone. Election night isn’t known for being the most relaxing of evenings. We’re super tuned in and nerves and tensions are often at max capacity as we await the results.
Election stress isn’t unique to this year, but a recent survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association found that 68% of US adults said the 2020 presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life—a substantial increase from 52% who said the same about the 2016 presidential election. In another survey, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that nearly one-third of Americans may lose sleep on election night.
Sleep deprivation is the last thing any of us need, now or ever. We want to offer tips on managing what Maryland therapist Dr. Steven Stosny coined “election stress disorder,” so you can get some much needed rest on election night.
What is election stress disorder?
While it isn't a clinical diagnosis, Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Robert Bright says the concept of election stress disorder is very real. He describes it as an experience of overwhelming anxiety that can manifest in a number of ways.
Dr. Bright explains, “We notice it in our bodies, the tension in our shoulders. Sometimes people get GI (gastrointestinal) upset or headaches. People have trouble sleeping. There's a lot of sleep disturbance going on right now—tossing, turning and worrying… a lot of fearfulness (and) a number of mixed emotions… constantly searching the news and being on whatever social media outlet you have, and getting these messages,” he says. “It affects our emotions after a while. So we start getting irritable and short, and snapping at people, not trusting people, seeing people as the other or as the same. And that starts affecting our relationships at home. It starts affecting our work."
So what can we do to combat election stress? Dr. Steven Stosny, the author of Soar Above: How to Use the Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress recommends taking control of what you actually can control.
“Feelings of powerlessness are not punishments, they’re motivations to empower ourselves. Stand up for what you believe. Write letters, demonstrate, lobby Congress and so on, remembering that you’ll be most effective (and feel better) when focused on the change you want to see rather than merely reacting to what you don’t like.”
He also suggests taking the moral high ground and resisting “the urge to react to a jerk like a jerk.” We know this concept can be easier said than done, but it is one of the best pieces of advice for maintaining optimal psychological health.
How to manage election stress and get to sleep on election night
The American Psychological Association offers evidence-based advice to help folks manage their feelings of stress and anxiety as it relates to the election.
- Some of us are better at dealing with uncertainty than others. With a contentious presidential election, an ongoing global pandemic, and social unrest adding to the sense of uncertainty in our lives, try not to imagine worst-case scenarios. Break the habit of ruminating on bad outcomes.
- If following the news and scrolling through social media is causing you stress—and it does for a lot of us—limit your media consumption. Go for a walk, meditate, or put on a show and leave your phone in the other room. Give yourself permission to take a break from the news, even for just a few minutes at a time.
- Spend time with people close to you. Research shows that turning to those close to you for emotional support can help you cope better than if you isolate.
- Do something active. Moving helps us release tense energy.
- In a year when alternative methods of casting your ballot are at an all-time high, we should all be prepared not to find out who wins the election on Election Day. If you think that waiting on results after election night will only increase your anxiety, keep busy (not on social media) and stay connected to those close to you so that you aren’t compulsively checking for “bad” news.
We want to be clear that we’re not suggesting anyone completely tune out of what’s going on in the world. Staying informed is very important, especially as it relates to the future of our country and everyone who lives it in. But giving ourselves a reprieve from doomscrolling as we wait for election results is an act of self-preservation, and one that is crucial to your overall health. So do what you have to do to stay informed, but also remember to give yourself space to turn off the noise and get the rest you need.
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