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Managing Election Stress

Tips to help you stay balanced during election season.

Have you been noticing a spike in your stress as Election Day draws closer? If so, you certainly aren’t alone. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, 68% of American adults share that the upcoming election is a “significant source of stress in their lives.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I find myself hard-pressed to name a single soul who hasn’t been more stressed this year. More American adults note that the future of the nation is a significant source of stress this year (77%) compared to 2019 (66%). In unprecedented times such as this, we tend to look more towards our leaders for information, guidance, and reassurance. If you have felt a bit of an uptick in your election-related stress, this may be a normal response. Merely recognizing this may help you to reduce your levels, however, at the least, this acknowledgment can help you recognize the importance of managing your well-being. Here are a few tips to help you better cope during election season.

Spot your symptoms

Stress is a normal part of life. It is a natural response to an external pressure that disrupts your equilibrium. However, stress may not look the same from person to person. Also, while you may be able to acknowledge that you are stressed, you may not pay much attention to what stress looks like for you.

Stress often causes symptoms such as:

  • Unpleasant emotions (e.g., uneasiness, confusion, irritability, sadness, and anger)
  • Unhealthy thoughts (e.g., rumination, jumping to conclusions, and suicidal thoughts)
  • Reduced work productivity (e.g., diminished focus, efficiency, and productivity)
  • Interpersonal problems (e.g., withdrawal, isolation, defensiveness, and communication concerns)
  • Body tension and pain (e.g., headaches, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and spasms)
  • Reduced energy (e.g., tiredness, weakness, and fatigue)
  • Sleeping problems (e.g., insomnia, hypersomnia, and nightmares)

If you wish to better manage these symptoms, try your best to recognize them as they arise. Missing this connection hinders your ability to tackle them proactively. Over time it is possible that that stressor may diminish, however, you also run the risk of it growing and becoming more difficult to manage as well. While there may be many factors at play in any given scenario, consider how stress may have played a role. For example, you may recognize that your headache may have been triggered by skipping a meal. While that may be true, did you skip lunch because you fell into a deep scroll trying to stay informed about early voting numbers?

Learning and acknowledging your signs of stress may take some time. Not only is it common to miss them, but even if you catch them, it’s also tempting to think that you can manage them by brushing them under the rug. The danger in this tactic is that it doesn’t allow you to tackle the problem head on, and the catalyst of time may lead you to miss the key opportunity to intervene before your stress becomes overwhelming.

Reflect on the cause

Once you are able to recognize your symptoms, consider where they stemmed from. In the example shared above, the hunt for information (i.e., early voting numbers) paired with the limitless scroll on social media may have been leading forces. Taking a deeper dive into what caused your stress can empower you to appropriately tailor your coping. In this scenario, the one-time solution may be to eat a nutritious meal to reduce the headache. However, additional methods of coping that may help in the future could include setting personal parameters for social media use.

A lot of election stress arises from the tremendous amount of pressure that is put on one day. The perception of one person holding the future of our country in their hands is an additional weight. Moreover, when assessing the election process, individuals may even grow discouraged when considering the power of one vote. However, taking the time to reflect on the roots of your election stress may signal broader concerns. While a wider problem may seem more intimidating, it also can alleviate the specific Election Day pressure, provide a more realistic scope, and even motivate you to seek help.

Let’s take the example of the individual who may feel disheartened by the power of their single vote. If we take a closer look, perhaps we realize that this person feels disempowered in many ways in their life. Recognizing the ways this individual has been stressed beyond the election can help to signal the ways that this person can better manage that stress during and after election season. This type of reflection is not always easy to do alone. If you try this method and find yourself struggling, perhaps consider seeking feedback from a supportive person in your life or consulting with a mental health professional.

Consider what you can manage

Much of election stress pertains to the current uncertainty of the impending results. It can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what is beyond your control. It’s not to say that we should ignore things that we can’t control, but specifically, when we are noticing a surge in our stress levels it can be helpful to realign ourselves by differentiating what we can manage and what is beyond our realm of control.

When considering election stress, examples of what may be within your control could include:

  • Reflecting on your personal values and stance
  • Researching candidates and amendments through reputable sources
  • Exercising your right to vote
  • Helping others get to exercise their right to vote
  • Learning your symptoms of stress
  • Exploring the roots of your stress
  • Considering how you can cope with your stress

Choose to cope

Sometimes simply acknowledging your stress can help to reduce your symptoms. Other times, it isn’t that easy, but it doesn’t have to be too complicated either. After recognizing the root of your stress and sifting aside what is beyond your control you are likely left with areas that you can manage. While we may not be able to predict the future and know what stressors may come our way, we can still be prepared. Since stress is a normal part of life, we can expect to feel it at one time or another. So yes, even this election season pans out just as you hoped, you will still likely face the pressures of stress in another capacity at one time or another. When it comes to stress-management, it can be helpful to be proactive in familiarizing yourself with a variety of coping skills that work for you.

If you pay attention to the symptoms that arise when you are stressed, you may be able to find clues into the right coping mechanisms for you. Let’s say you are showing signs of irritability, body aches, and fatigue. From this realization, you could gather that you may need ample rest. Then, you may tailor your self-care to include coping skills such as adding breaks to your day, implementing relaxation techniques, or improving your sleep hygiene.

Another way to consider what coping skills are best for you is to reflect on the past. For example, if you are experiencing election stress currently, consider if this is a new form of stress. Perhaps you realize that while this level may differ from years past, the stress around election season is not a new sensation. Consider what got you through during that time. Even if election stress is entirely new for you, expand your reflection to ponder what has worked for you in other difficult times.

When it comes to election season self-care, the more strategies that you have in your toolkit, the better. One coping skill may not work for every context. Having a variety of options allows you to be better equipped to handle your stress. Say for example you have learned in the past that speaking to your loved ones helps you to reduce your stress levels. However, while many individuals have divided social circles with contrasting political views. In this scenario, discourse could further exacerbate stress levels. Some individuals may choose to be careful of whom they speak to during this time, or on election day in particular. Some may opt to establish boundaries with their loved one around communication. Others may maintain their circles as-is and invest in alternate coping skills after considering the context.

While we all need coping skills, it does not necessarily look the same for everyone. What works for one person may not be effective for another. Be sure to honor your individuality by reflecting on what skills help you to manage your stress. Here are ten examples that may serve as inspiration in your process:

  1. Breathing techniques
  2. Prayer or meditation
  3. Advocacy
  4. Volunteering
  5. Exercise
  6. Cleaning
  7. Playing with a pet
  8. Reading a book
  9. Practicing gratitude
  10. Attending therapy

This information is educational in nature and is in no way a substitute for therapy. Be mindful that stress may also exacerbate underlying mental health conditions. If you notice that your signs are difficult to manage, please consider seeking professional help.

You can find a provider in your area with the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States via phone at 1-800-273-8255 or chat.