Act to Curb Election Anxiety

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.”

Recognizing Tension

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.

De-Escalating Stress For Improved Mental Health

After two years of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, people are feeling stressed. We have less patience for slights that we used to shrug off. We want people to listen to us and support us, but we sometimes may forget that they probably want the same things from us.

We might also feel we don’t have the bandwidth to extend more support to others. We might be a little less kind than we could be.

But in today’s reality, small annoyances can mushroom into big conflicts. We’ve seen shootings over parking spaces, people yelling at each other for wearing masks or not wearing masks, and a frightening uptick in violence throughout Philadelphia and across the country.

Sensational Headlines Can Raise Our Stress Levels

The smartphones we carry around often add to the tension. Social media, television, and radio programming often thrives on conflict and emotion. We are fed a steady stream of provocative headlines, whether they’re about the war in Ukraine, politics, or racial injustice. Even sports updates and weather forecasts are often presented in dire terms.

It’s important to be mindful of how these stories may upset us and try to avoid getting overwhelmed. Otherwise all this negative news can raise our blood pressure and increase our risk of heart disease or stroke, weaken our immune systems, affect the quality of our sleep, and generally worsen our mental health and sense of well-being.

Take Back Control

There are a few things we can do to de-escalate the level of stress in our lives.

Start by practicing love and kindness to yourself. Affirmations — positive statements we repeat to ourselves to help us overcome negative thoughts — can be a useful tool. Repeat gentle affirmations in your mind, such as wishing happiness and freedom from suffering for you and the people you care about. It sounds simple, but studies show that this kind of practice helps us feel connected and supported and increases our patience.

It’s also important to take breaks. Give your phone a rest and go outside. Take a walk, play with your dog, or say hello to your neighbors. Get together with friends in person.

And consider reading the news rather than listening to it. You’ll be able to better control which stories you read. Take them in at your own pace, and stop before you become overwhelmed.

Finally, remember that most people are having a hard time, so resist the temptation to assume the worst about them. If a friend, stranger, or co-worker makes an insensitive comment, it may be because they’re experiencing a lot of stress themselves. A well-meaning compliment or kind word from you could change their whole attitude and lead to a more positive relationship.

For more information about mental health self-care strategies and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.