How to fight Election Stress Disorder

A Self-Care Plan for Now through Election Day

This election cycle is taking a greater toll on folks than previous elections, so much so that people are getting Election Stress Disorder (ESD). In fact, the American Psychological Association found that the upcoming presidential election is a significant source of stress for 68% of adults. (That’s up from 52% for the 2016 election.) Furthermore, political affiliation didn’t really matter — people are stressed the heck out all across the board!

So, if you’re feeling the ESD feels, you certainly aren’t alone. That’s why we’re dedicating a whole post to the topic. Keep reading to discover some simple self-care strategies and techniques that aim to help you ratchet down your stress levels and ease your ESD symptoms.

If you need immediate mental health help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP (4357)). Both provide free, confidential assistance 24/7/365. They offer care in English and Spanish and have helplines specifically for people with hearing difficulties and for veterans.


What is Election Stress Disorder?

Election Stress Disorder doesn’t have a formal definition. It’s not an official psychological condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (aka DSM). But that doesn’t make it any less real to the many Americans suffering with ESD symptoms.

A few more noteworthy tidbits:

The pandemic, economic uncertainty, social justice and civic unrest, ___________ (fill in the blank) are all just adding fuel to the ESD fire.

According to a 2019 Western Carolina University article, social media can amplify election season chaos and negativity (as if you needed your stress boosted!). This can wear you down and exhaust you even further.

Evidence shows that Black people suffer from election-related stress at higher rates than other demographic groups.


Symptoms & Signs

Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Robert Bright describes ESD as “an experience of overwhelming anxiety that can manifest in a number of ways.” Here are some other possible symptoms:

You get the idea. You’re feeling like a bundle of raw nerves because of election-related information and events. Every time you hear the words “election,” “vote,” “campaign,” or a candidate’s name, your stomach knots up. Your heart races (in a not-so-good way) when you turn on the TV or radio or check social media. When the topic of politics comes up, your whole body involuntarily clenches.

On top of these symptoms, there are other signs that ESD may be gnawing at you. Research indicates that people are sicker during elections seasons because of the stress. There are spikes in health care expenditures that directly correspond to the campaigning timeframes. Plus, with the squeeze on your mental well-being, there are other costs — like strained or lost relationships.


Is ESD Serious?

Stress is a normal part of life. It’s okay to have some. And, it’s healthy for you to learn how to deal with everyday worries, tension or difficulties. Developing coping skills can help you build resilience and develop equanimity.

The thing to beware of is stress that starts to dominate or influence your life. If stress is beginning to negatively impact your health, relationships, work, studies, etc. — it could be a more serious concern. Without proper care, unmanaged stress can lead to more severe mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. It can also cause or aggravate a whole slew of physical health issues.


Fighting ESD

You’re never, ever, ever gonna eliminate stress. So just chuck that thought out the window so you can move on.

What you can do is own a three-pronged offensive strategy for showing Election Stress Disorder who’s boss (that’d be you!).

Prevent ESD as much as humanly possible. An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. The less stress you have, the less you’ve got to combat, right?

Minimize the ESD that you do experience. Given that you will surely have some amount of stress, the idea here is to have that stress manifest itself as less severe, shorter lasting, less frequent, easier to treat, etc. Smaller. A house fly instead of a murder hornet.

Deal with your ESD head on. Show your ESD who’s in charge of you. Instead of letting stress beat you up or trying to avoid it, address the symptoms and root causes directly. Acknowledge your condition so you can manage it effectively so stress doesn’t rule your life.


12+ Tips & Tactics For Coping With Election Stress Disorder

Below, we’ve rounded up the best suggestions for showing ESD the unwelcome mat. These methods work to destress, cultivate resilience and promote equanimity.

Consider trying one or all — see what works for you! You may find that mixing it up yields the best results. And be gentle and patient with yourself; it may take time and repetition before you notice significant improvements. (But hopefully you’ll feel at least a little bit better straight away! 😊)

Vote! Yah, we’re going to push this angle as long and far as we can. But, truth be told, this is one of the most direct and decisive actions you can take against ESD. You are regaining some control over your destiny. You’re being an engaged and positive force against this blah that’s harming you. Go vote.

Learn about autonomic nervous system. Ok, this sounds really academic, but hear us out. The ANS regulates certain bodily processes that are involved in your reaction to stress. This is the system that controls your “flight or fight” response. By understanding it a little bit, you may be able to take away some of its mystery and power. It’s kind of like once you know the ghost in the haunted house is really just a white sheet over a balloon, you can’t be as scared of it.

Be self-aware. Your response to the stimuli around you is valid. Acknowledge the feelings you’re having. Don’t bottle them up or deny them. Sometimes just putting a name to them can lessen their severity or impact.

Meditate. Meditation is fairly trendy right now, for good reason. It works. There are many different kinds meditation, from deep breathing to mindfulness to guided visualization. There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. When you get in the “zone” your brainwaves actually change, which causes that calming or focusing response.

Gratitude practice. Look for positives. Reframe your sitch to put it in terms of what is good, working well, bolstering you. There are tons of ways to execute a gratitude practice: journaling, artwork, quiet visualization, etc.

Pray. Religious or spiritual connection is incredibly soothing for a lot of people. If your faith comforts you, turn to it.

Create something. Making art, crafting, playing music, designing something — they’re all great ways to disengage from the stuff that’s bringing you down.

Do puzzles and games. A little more than just playing, these activities captivate your brain. They can feel a bit meditative when you get really into them! They can capture your attention so fully that they might provide that desperately needed escape.

Engage in meaningful activity. For some, losing themselves in purposeful tasks is a powerful antidote to all the world’s ills. By helping someone else, you’re helping yourself. This could take the form of volunteering, assisting a neighbor or friend, knitting hats for the local charity, organizing a fundraiser — pretty much whatever resonates with you. Just aim for activities that don’t rile you up; you’re trying to get rid of stress after all.

Plan for after the election. Having a plan for Election Day and Election Day Eve are a good idea. But, having one for post-election is a must as well. In all likelihood — especially this year — the uncertainty and negativity will continue for some time. We probably won’t have a final and clear winner for every race/ballot measure on election night (It can take weeks….) and many expect protests, court battles, etc. over vote outcomes. It could be messy and you should try to prepare yourself for that.

Avoid destructive outlets. Try to steer away from things that are detrimental to your health, or that don’t actively work to benefit your well-being. So, maybe say “No” to alcohol, excessive junk food, smoking, and so on.

Go to therapy. Talking it out with a trained and impartial person may be just what you need. Therapists can help you get to the source(s) of your specific stress. Plus, they can offer effective and personalized recommendations for coping methods that you won’t find via a Google search.

More ways! We covered several great ways to bust stress in our How to win at election day post — like exercise, eating well, getting plenty of rest, being in nature, unplugging, maintaining perspective, going on a [temporary/intermittent] news/social media fast and selective socializing. Check them out, too!


tl;dr

Election stress is real. This year it could be worse than usual. If you’re suffering from election stress disorder, you are definitely not alone.

Fortunately, there are so many ways to try to combat ESD. Doing so will make you more resilient and up your equanimity quotient. So you’ll have greater, more stable well-being throughout the rest of this election cycle and beyond.


Disclaimer: We aren’t medical experts and this post isn’t intended to diagnose, advise or otherwise treat any health conditions. It’s purely for informational purposes only. If you believe you have a health concern, please contact your healthcare provider. If you need immediate mental health help (that’s free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year), contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP (4357)).