Handling Stress Over the Election
I think it is probably safe to say that many of us thought that the general unrest and divisiveness the country experienced during the last Presidential election cycle in 2016 could not possibly get any worse. That was a once in a lifetime event. Then 2020 came along and said, “Hold my beer.”
Take the COVID-19 pandemic, racial unrest, perhaps the worst economic hardship we have seen since The Great Depression, natural disasters from coast to coast, and blend all of that together with an election year like none before it, and the result is many Americans are feeling uneasy right now. Some are even experiencing severe onsets of stress in regards to the election.
Various polls in 2016 found that around half of American adults felt that the 2016 Presidential election was a “somewhat” or “very significant” source of stress for them. With everything going on around us, it is hard to imagine that those figures would be any lower in regards to the 2020 election.
Stress can affect our mental and physical health. Because many people on either side of the political spectrum see this election as the most significant one in their lifetime, that stress is even higher.
People are worried not just about the results, but also what comes after. Will there be peace and acceptance of the results or will there be protests, violence, and rioting in the streets?
How stress impacts our mental health
When stress is introduced our body activates its “fight or flight” response. This response will initially help a person cope with the situation, but over the long run if the stressor is introduced frequently or continues to linger it can impact one’s mental and physical health.
Stress and anxiety can cause you to feel overwhelmed, sad, irritable, and confused. It can cause people to withdraw socially to avoid situations that introduce that stress.
Untreated, stress and anxiety will hamper our immune systems, leading to more frequent illnesses. It can also lead to depression.
How to cope with stress
Beyond right versus left, conservative versus liberal, and Republican versus Democrat this year, there are a lot of other factors that are contributing to higher stress levels this year. The most obvious, of course, is that The United States is still in the midst of a global pandemic with little certainty of when that might end.
As a result of the pandemic, more people than ever are going to cast their vote by mail-in ballot this year. Due to the extra time it is going to take to count mail-in ballots, we are likely not going to know who won on election day, or the day after… or the day after that.
We could be looking at something like what we saw in the 2000 Presidential election where we were waiting for weeks for multiple recounts in Florida and for officials to figure out what to do about “hanging chads”.
The waiting and uncertainty is going to be a major source of stress for many of us.
It is best to start preparing yourself mentally for that now. Understand that the most you can do is to vote. Once you have done that, you have done everything you can do. Worrying about the result will not change anything.
It is also important that you talk about your feelings. Talk to friends. Talk to family. Share the tensions and negative emotions you are feeling, but also be sure to focus on positive emotions. Despite what may feel like a whirlwind of negative story after negative story, there are a lot of amazing things going on in the world today, both nationally and right in front of you. Take time to appreciate and celebrate those things.
If you find that political discussions are causing increased levels of stress, avoid them or set boundaries with friends, family members, and co-workers. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I am not going to change your mind on this topic. You are not going to change my mind. It is becoming a source of constant disagreement between us. Let’s just agree to not discuss it anymore.”
Many of our political disagreements in 2020 can be found on social media. Few of us have connections that are only from one side of the political spectrum, and that can cause some heated, and sometimes toxic, disagreements on both sides. Take a break from social media if you need to do so. You do not necessarily need to leave social media completely until the upcoming election. Staying off of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram even for just a few days can often have a great calming effect.
In addition, make sure that you are taking care of yourself physically. Ensure that you are eating healthy, drinking adequate amounts of water, getting enough sleep each day, and adding some physical activity to your weekly routines.
All of these things have been proven to help reduce levels of stress, and can help you get through what are sure to be a chaotic few weeks coming up.
If you find that you are feeling overwhelmed regularly and that feelings of stress and anxiety are impacting you on a daily basis, it may be time to reach out for professional help. You can contact us to schedule an appointment. We are scheduling both in-person and online appointments to conveniently work around your schedule.