Have you developed a nervous twitch every time an election ad comes on? Do the words “vote” and “debate” leave you feeling more anxious than normal? If so, you’re not alone. A survey conducted by The American Psychological Association (APA) found that 52 percent of Americans said the election “is a very or somewhat significant” source of stress in their lives.
It’s called Election Stress Disorder (and, yes, it’s a real thing). The APA says it is affecting people on both sides of the political aisle equally. Constant media coverage, uncertainty, volatile election issues and social media bickering are just some of the reasons the election has people feeling on edge.
For most people the election isn’t their sole source of worry, but it can be one more thing on a list of worries that already feels full, says Phil Stone, a Denver-based mental health expert who works at West Pines Behavioral Health.
“Our patients are having trouble juggling busy lives: taking care of the house, getting the kids to school, paying bills and many other things, and they’re stressed about the election,” he says.
So, how do you survive the days to come? Whether you’re stressed by the buildup or the results that follow, Stone offers 9 ways you can cope:
- Take care of yourself. Don’t let election hysteria take you away from the basics: Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. If these are part of your normal routine, don’t change to binge on election news. If they’re not a part of your normal day, escape election coverage by going on a run, going to bed early, or both.
- Surround yourself with positivity. Seek the company of positive people who aren’t consumed by the election. “Instead of hearing the latest update about the polls, put on some relaxing piano music and watch the sunrise for a change,” says Stone. “Scale back and go simple. Breathe deeply three times. Those are kind of the things we teach people to manage their anxiety.”
- Go off the grid. Don’t look at Facebook or Twitter. People are finding stress triggers from their own friends who have strong opinions.
- Watch just enough TV to stay informed—15 to 20 minutes. If you’re watching TV, mute the commercials. Even news can be anxiety-inducing so spare yourself attack ads and fear tactics.
- Vote as soon as you can. Stone notes that it’s the only part of the election you can control so that is where you should focus your energy. “For someone with anxiety to avoid a task is counter-productive,” he says. “It will be empowering to be able to complete your ballot.” He also recommends mailing in or dropping off your ballot because election centers can be anxiety-inducing and you can second-guess yourself in the voting booth.
- Find distractions and take a mental vacation. Something as simple as watching cat videos on YouTube, or anything else you enjoy for a few minutes, can provide a nice mental break. Assuming you can’t jet off to a beach paradise until all of this is over, you can take five minutes to look at pictures of your favorite vacation spot.
- Avoid overly opinionated people. If you have a family member, co-worker or even a random stranger who is trying to impose their agenda on you, politely avoid them. Say, ‘Not interested,’ and walk away or change the topic or leave the room.
- Run for the hills. Seriously. Escape to the mountains or another fun location if you can. Go to the movies, take a hike or whatever else forces you to fold the laptop closed, turn off the TV and get out of the house.
- Keep it all in perspective. Take care of yourself and your family. Nothing is going to change on November 9. Don’t build a bunker and go live in the basement off a year’s supply of food yet. Chances are things are going to stay the same in the immediate future regardless of what’s decided.