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Depression and Big Elections

Why it's important to self-care during campaign season

Image Chef
Source: Image Chef

It's the Presidential election, and the campaign trail ain't pretty. In fact, it's an emotional time for many. An American Psychological Association 2016 Survey claims that 52% of the general public is experiencing Election Stress - and it doesn't matter if you're a democrat, republican, libertarian or independent.

As the election process intensifies, nominees bombard us with negative campaigns, fear-based rhetoric and constant press conferences. Candidate speeches are generally scripted to persuade and influence  - and are often peppered with an underlying message of danger.

Other political groups find ways to jostle the campaign trail by leaking videos or launching negative stories for their own interests. And then there's news media, broadcast television, social media and internet websites that perpetuate the negative atmosphere by telling sensational stories, challenging the opinion of others in heated guest segments or poking at issues that challenge us as a country: unemployment, immigration, money, health, education. Before long, the general public splinters into polarizing groups, where anger or anxiety abound.

The negativity from Election Stress keeps rolling on - and research tells us it's not going to get any better anytime soon. You see, emotions win elections. Though positive campaigning can heighten your feelings of enthusiasm and hope, it's fear, anger and anxiety that gets you in the voting booth. You're more likely to make sure to get out and vote if you worry that you'll lose things in election times.

Why It's Stressful

The reason the general public's mental health is challenged is because negative campaigning heightens stress. And when your body is faced with stress, particularly fear-based stress, the adrenal glands secrete glucocorticoid hormones to help you cope. Specifically, your body launches cortisol to help you get away from danger, where your heart rate increases, and blood flow goes to everything you need to run away or fight. This fight-flight response is meant for short term stress - and becomes wearisome if it's elongated. You'll eventually get irritable, anxious, and even depressed because you're in a prolonged "state of emergency." For those of us who live with depression, stress can compromise our illness, so take a look at the following tips to help you during the big election.

Tips To Reduce Depression

I encourage patients to follow these tips to help lessen the depression - and I also practice what I preach. I do all of the following each and every year before the campaign season begins:

  1. Limiting your exposure to media. Turn off the television, power down from the internet. Give yourself a break from the onslaught of negative campaigning. I rarely watch broadcast news anymore, and when I do, I watch news shows that give an overview of the day's highlights. This way I can stay informed without getting overloaded by too much drama.
  2. Choose print media: If you have to plug into election news, consider choosing print media rather than visual media. Grabbing the local paper or a weekly magazine will reduce the likelihood that you'll get exposed to emotionally triggering material. 
  3. Take charge. Remember, you have the power to turn off the remote, link out of a website or change the radio station. You can always put down the newspaper or turn the page. Don't let yourself be passive when you feel negative campaigning is overwhelming you.
  4. Know your limits. Other people will have a different tolerance for election issues than you. If you've reached a saturation point, where you don't want to talk about politics, make your feelings known, walk away or change the subject. Try to avoid getting into political debates or wasting your passion about issues with a person who doesn't share your beliefs. Be aware of triggers that can worsen your depressive symptoms. Avoid them or modify your environment to minimize their corrosive effect on your mental health. 
  5. Feed your senses. Consider having an electronic-free day. Unplug from the phone, the computer, don't watch television or linger on social media. Let your senses take in the simpler things in life. Shift your focus to your loved ones, and invite pleasant experiences into your day. I love to lounge in some pool of sunlight, grab healthy snacks, open the windows for fresh air or light a candle. I like to enjoy warm comforts and listen to music. When I rest and refuel, my levels of stress, anxiety and depression are lower.
  6. Vote early. Did you know that one out of three voters in the 2012 presidential election voted at home rather than at traditional polling places? And did you know that science shows those who vote at home experience significantly reduced stress? Well, now you know, so when campaign season comes along, get your absentee ballot or if your state has online voting, get registered. I've been voting early for years now, and I know it helps me feel grounded and empowered, instead of stressed.
  7. Inoculate yourself against Post-Election Depression. Many individuals can experience a let down of enormous proportions if their candidate doesn't win the election. Research tells us the more invested you are in a nominee, the more crushing their defeat can be to your own well-being. One way to prevent the negative after effects of an election is to be realistic about government - and realistic about change. I remind myself that change takes time and that governing is a slow process. I don't worry too much because I know there are many checks and balances - and I can find ways to get my voice heard if things move in an undesirable election. More important than anything else, and I accept what I can change in my immediate world and what I can't change.