The subject of politics is a significant source of anxiety for Americans. More than half of adults feel that elections are “somewhat” or “very significant” sources of stress.1 Stress is not always problematic, but when the period of stress becomes long-lasting or exceptionally intense, symptoms like worry, sadness, hopelessness, and physical tension may develop. Without the needed treatment, these symptoms may result in new and worsening mental health disorders.
Someone prone to election-related stress can lessen the unwanted influence by recognizing the impact of politics on their mental health, using avoidance to limit interaction with triggers, and employing healthy coping skills. By following these steps, a person can remain politically active without letting the election results create psychological concerns that last far beyond November.
Why Elections Can Cause Anxiety
Elections cause levels of anxiety because politics and politicians are tremendous sources of stress for Americans. The stress comes both directly and indirectly as people worry about the immediate effects of a particular politician winning and the long-term effects a victory will have on other sources of toxic stress.
According to a 2019 study conducted by the American Psychological Association, more than 60% of Americans view politics and politicians as a direct source of stress with 56% seeing the election as a stressor in their life.1
Signs & Symptoms of Election Related Anxiety
With election anxiety, a person could experience high levels of anxiety as they anticipate what could happen if “the other side” is elected. They may worry that the vote will impact their family, their job, their home, their safety, and their rights in very negative ways. Once the votes are counted and the decision is made, a person could feel a combination of fear and anxiety about the present, as well as the future.
Signs and symptoms of election anxiety could include:2
- Intense worry that affects home, school, or work life
- Feeling keyed up
- Feeling more tired and fatigued
- Trouble with concentration
- Sleep problems
- Panic attacks
Depending on the intensity, frequency, and duration of symptoms, a person could meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder due to election-related stress. Some people may experience symptoms that peak before the election, and others will notice symptoms that worsen after the results are finalized (sometimes called post-election stress disorder). Unfortunately, even if a person’s favorite candidate wins, the stress may produce lasting damage that continues long after the final votes are tallied.
10 Tips for How to Deal With Election Anxiety
To limit the anxiety linked to elections you must reduce stress, but stress can feel impossible to avoid as the news, family functions, and even visits with friends seem to spark election-related stress. Of course you want to stay informed about the news to remain up-to-date, but it causes you additional worry. About 54% of people reported following the news causes them stress.1
Cutting out all triggers may be impossible, but you can find ways to avoid or limit your exposure to certain people, places, and things that are causing election-related stress.
Here are 10 tips for limiting your election anxiety:
With all of the stress associated with elections, it may start to feel that a person’s power and control over the situation is minimal. People can experience depressed thoughts full of hopelessness as they wonder about their ability to truly make a difference.3
Voting is a great stress reducer during elections because it is an active, behavioral gesture that fulfills each person’s civic duty. The act of voting can also represent the conclusion of another election cycle, and it presents an opportunity for people to shift their habits away from politics.
2. Limit Your News Exposure
How much news is too much news to watch? People who watch high levels of news programs experience high levels of anxiety, so programs or cable channels dedicated to news are important to avoid. Of course, news in moderation offers some benefit, but scaling back on consumption may be a valuable way to reduce stress.3
People who watch a lot of news are about one and a half times more likely than others to experience anxiety disorders. Watching too much news is linked to:4
- Uncontrolled fear with increased fearful thoughts
- Being on guard and easily startled
- Sleeping problems
In the move to limit news exposure, some people will quickly shift into a comfortable amount of news consumption, while others may struggle to find a healthy balance. In certain situations, someone will need to completely disconnect from the 24-hour news cycle to reduce their stress, just as someone with an addiction may need abstinence.
3. Find Ways to Contribute Positively
People living with election-related anxiety must remember that living with too much stress is not a productive use of resources. Stress only creates more tension as it spreads to all aspects of life.
Stop the flow of negativity by channeling time, energy, and effort into positivity in your area. You could decide to:
- Volunteer for a local organization or charity
- Perform random acts of kindness
- Spend time with older members of the community
- Work to beautify a nearby park or green space
- Collect litter from a highway
Any of these activities will provide a sense of accomplishment and control that offsets the negativity and decisiveness of the political arena. Along the way, volunteering your time could connect you with a new group of like-minded individuals who are out to do good.
4. Focus on Your Personal Relationships
Don’t allow election stress to affect the quality of your relationships. Setting politics aside, focus on shared values and the positive aspects these relationships possess. This can bring you back to the reasons why these connections exist in your life.
Just as important is that your interactions with the people in your life are mutually respectful in nature. If there are people in your circle crossing boundaries—especially when it comes to politics—keep them at a distance or limit your contact with them. Your friendships and other social bonds are supposed to bring you joy, not be another source of stress.
5. Search for Hope
Politics in the 21st century seem to be based on contention, hate, and division. To push back against these harmful themes, make a conscious effort to search for hope and optimism in the world.
After all, the world is a wonderful place that offers endless beauty to those who choose to see it. Retraining your brain to focus on the elegance of nature may present a challenge, so spend time each day appreciating a new bloom, the sunset reflecting against a window, or changing leaves on a tree.
In addition to the beauty of nature, there are people doing good and contributing amazing amounts of positivity into the world, even when situations look bleak. Make it a mission to find these people, to celebrate them, and become inspired by them.
6. Focus on Your Physical Health
Taking care of your physical health involves nourishing yourself with healthy foods, moving your body, and making sure you get enough sleep:
- Diet: When stress is high, people may choose the foods that are available rather than the foods that are healthy. Focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables with healthy proteins for energy. Avoid sugary drinks and eat well to improve physical health.
- Sleep: Sleep is necessary to restore a person’s physical and mental health. Leave enough time for sleep each night, and put away the phone at least an hour before bed to avoid getting distracted by bad news.
- Exercise: To improve mental and physical health, exercise is invaluable. If it seems like exercise is too far out of reach, focus on setting aside just 20 minutes each day to take a walk. A walk can clear the mind as it strengthens the body.
7. Limit Your Negative Coping Skills Like Drinking
When levels of stress, tension, and sadness begin to build, people may turn to a negative coping strategy like alcohol or other drugs to manage their feelings.5 Substances may seem to offer a “quick fix” for discomfort as having a drink at the end of a long day relaxes the body and mind. In time, though, substances only compound the issue and add more stress and anxiety.
8. Completely Unplug for Awhile
While it’s important to stay connected with the people and the world around you, sometimes going off the grid for a period may be necessary to offset the negative effects of your election-related anxiety. Consider taking a social media break, turning off all news and social media notifications on all your devices, ignoring texts/calls from anyone in your orbit who has strong political opinion, not watching live TV, and basically eliminating anything that may trigger election stress.
Unplugging for a while can reboot your overall well-being and give you a chance to relax and focus on other activities so you can come back stronger. You can use this time to pursue enjoyable and wholesome experiences like picking up that book you’ve been meaning to read, watching your favorite Netflix shows, taking up a new hobby, cultivating self-care, and connecting with nature. Once you’re mentally ready to reconnect, try maintaining a balance between these activities and your everyday life.
9. Focus on What You Can Control
Examine the areas that are realistically under your control and direct all your energy towards them. This entails using your election stress to your benefit, like voting, getting locally involved with your affiliated political party, or mentally preparing should the results not be what you want. Understanding that you can only control yourself and make changes on your own can ground you and keep you from getting stuck with obsessing over the uncertainty often involved in elections. Remember, you cannot control the totality of the electoral outcome, but you can control how you chose to react moving forward.
10. Try to Keep It All in Perspective
You may feel overwhelmed by the ongoing election madness and related stress which can prevent you from thinking clearly and looking at the bigger picture. Try taking a step back and assessing the things that really matter in your life like family, work, and your overall health. Then ask yourself how you will be realistically impacted in a broader context by the election results. More than likely, you won’t see any major or immediate changes by the electoral outcome. Keeping yourself in check can ease your election anxiety and enable you to shift your focus towards more positive things.
When to Seek Professional Help for Election Anxiety
You should seek professional help whenever the election-related stress creates symptoms of anxiety that last for more than two weeks and begin to negatively affect facets of your performance at home, work, or school. Additionally, if you find it impossible to follow through on the positive coping skill strategies outlined above, professional anxiety therapy is needed.
Someone who thinks they may benefit from professional help should reflect on their symptoms and recent changes brought on by their election-related stress. They should review the impact of stress on:
- Sleep, diet, and physical health
- Relationships and communication with loved ones
- Energy and motivation levels
- Self-care and hygiene
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Anxiety and worry
Anyone struggling in two or more areas should seek out an evaluation from a mental health expert.
How to Find a Therapist
To find a therapist, consider seeking a referral from a provider like a primary care doctor or a trusted friend. Or, look for a provider on an online therapist directory, where you can sort by specialty and insurance coverage. Luckily, there is no such thing as seeking treatment “too early,” so if you feel the impact of stress on your life, schedule an appointment with a mental health professional today.
Election Anxiety Infographics