Walking into a voting booth to cast your ballot can be an empowering experience. But in today’s intense political climate, elections can also bring about feelings of angst, uncertainty and anxiety.
In fact, a post-2016 presidential election study revealed that Americans have experienced an increase in symptoms of anxiety, politically focused intrusive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors due to political stressors. Dr. Eric Storch, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine, says the anticipation of a midterm election can also bring about similar symptoms.
“Nowadays, there is so much emotion tied to the political process. Stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways – being more irritable around others, difficulty sleeping, eating more or less, or headaches,” he said. “You may also check news sources repeatedly, talk about current events in an unhealthy manner, and dwell on what’s happening.”
Fear of the unknown
Uncertainty is a core element of election anxiety. A common assumption is that you won’t be able to deal effectively with the results and consequences they may bring.
“One way to mitigate this is by reminding yourself that no matter what happens, you will be able to deal with it – that you have dealt with change before and will be able cope this time as well.”
Taking a long walk, spending time with loved ones and generally taking care of yourself with good sleeping and eating habits will also help alleviate anxiety.
You should also try to limit the amount of time you are consuming news; this could be in the form of how much news you watch, or information exposure on tablets or phones.
Ultimately, many people will be let down regardless of the election results. The way that we perceive the outcome can impact how we experience disappointment.
“Whichever side you are on politically, there are checks and balances in place, and even though things can change dramatically, life mostly continues as we know it,” Storch said.
When you don’t win, apathy and the urge to give up on political processes may start to set in. Instead, Storch encourages voters to take meaningful steps to advance their values.
Ask yourself, ‘What do I do next? How do I live a life that is consistent with my values and challenge things that are inconsistent with how I see the world?’
“All sides of the political sphere are struggling right now. Keep in mind that many of the things that still hold value and meaning for us are going to remain the same.”
Dr. Storch is a professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. Learn more about the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic or call 713-798-4857.
-By Nicole Blanton