Feeling Election Stress? 5 Tips to Help You Manage It

Social media appears to have a strong influence on our anxiety levels

Is the U.S. presidential election stressing you out? You’re not alone. More than half of Americans in a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.

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Regardless of party affiliation, everyone — Democrats and Republican alike — are statistically equally likely to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, the APA reports.

Social media appears to be having a strong influence on these stress levels. Nearly four in 10 adults (or 38 percent) said in the survey that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress.

 Managing election stress

The APA offers these tips to help you manage stress related to the election:

  • Limit your media consumption. Read just enough to stay informed. Turn off the newsfeed or take a digital break. Take some time for yourself, go for a walk, or spend time with friends and family doing things that you enjoy.
  • Avoid discussions about the election if you think they might produce conflict. Be aware of how much you’re discussing the election with friends, family members or coworkers.
  • Recognize that stress and anxiety about what might happen is not productive. Channel your concerns to make a positive difference on issues you care about. Consider volunteering in your community, advocating for an issue you support or joining a local group.
  • Remember that whatever happens on Election Day, life will go on. Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.
  • Vote. By voting, you are taking a proactive step. Seek out balanced information on the candidates and issues, make informed decisions and wear your “I Voted” sticker with pride.

Perspective counts

Every presidential election provokes some anxiety. Negative ads, in which candidate attack their opposition, plays a role in heightening tension levels. Why do these kinds of tactics work, even though they stress so many of us out?

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The success of political attacks is connected to how we feel about the person who is doing the attacking or the person who is being attacked, says clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.

“The individuals who are the attackers may delight some constituents who share that same feeling,” Dr. Bea says. “And so I think the person with whom we tend to empathize the most, or who is in line with our view the most, is going to appear favorable to us — no matter how they conduct themselves.”

We tend to gravitate toward the viewpoints that align with our own thoughts, regardless of how nasty the attacks can get, Dr. Bea says.

Response matters

Another way negative ads can impact our psyche has to do with how the person who is being attacked responds.

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When under attack, most people’s brains go into defense mode, he says. But when we respond by overly defending ourselves, Dr. Bea says it can signal to others that we are insecure for some reason.

On the other hand, when a person uses non-defensive responses, that can go a long way toward making that person look more secure and confident, Dr. Bea says.

One example of a non-defensive response is to agree with those who praise us, as well as those who attack us, Dr. Bea says.

“Try not to defend yourself too much,” Dr. Bea says. “Acknowledge your foibles as a human being rather than strongly defending them. This is something that we see quite rarely. It’s a little hard to pull off initially, but if you do it with some practice it gets easier and easier.”

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