Feeling anxious about the upcoming midterm elections? You’re not alone. Prior to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, more than two-thirds of Americans surveyed reported that the election was a significant source of tension in their lives. People across the political spectrum felt anxious, including 76 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Republicans, and 64 percent of Independents.
Take Action and Vote!
“The best action to take for election anxiety? Volunteer, talk to people about the issues that matter most to you, and vote!” says clinical psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D.
The American Psychological Association offers the following additional evidence-based advice:
- Uncertainty is stressful, so don’t dwell on things you can’t control. Avoid imagining worst-case scenarios.
- Focus on what you can control. Monitor your media consumption, and limit highly charged content.
- Engage in activities or issues that are meaningful to you.
- Stay socially connected. Spend time with friends and family.
- Stay physically active.
- Realize that you might not know the election results right away. Keep busy with other activities and social support, so you aren’t continually checking for “bad news.”
Stress affects us in a variety of ways. “We notice it in our bodies, the tension in our shoulders,” said Robert Bright, MD, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, of the stress leading up to the October 2020 presidential election. “Sometimes people get GI [gastrointestinal] upset or headaches. People have trouble sleeping. There’s a lot of sleep disturbance going on right now — tossing, turning, and worrying, and not being able to get to sleep — or having bad dreams about the election.”
Dr. Bright added that television, radio, and social media ads flood us with catastrophic messages about the candidates that heighten our sense of anxiety and can feel overwhelming. “And it affects our emotions after a while. So, we start getting irritable and short, and snapping at people, not trusting people, seeing people as [either] the other or as the same. And that starts affecting our relationships at home. It starts affecting our work.”
“Our stress level is something we need to take seriously,” says Dr. Chansky. “Many of us never got that much-needed re-set from the earlier years of the pandemic. And we’re also still dealing with ongoing COVID cases, climate crises, war, and disruption. Even if these events don’t seem to be affecting us directly, we’re still processing them — and our emotional and physical resources are being strained.”
Check Your Facts and Have Hope
“Compartmentalization is a key skill for emotional well-being,” Dr. Chansky says. “Particularly when something is causing us ongoing stress, it doesn’t help to think about it all the time. But it does serve us to address it at designated times — what we may think of as ‘worry appointments.’
“At those times, write out your feelings about the election and fact-check them against what you know,” Dr. Chansky advises. Choose to have hope, she suggests, even if it’s not your natural inclination. Hope is not about imagining a particular election outcome. Rather, it’s a way of life and a continual commitment to not give up.
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.