Anxious and stressed? Can’t concentrate at work? Worried and afraid about the future? The solution could be to turn off the news. One of the most contentious, adversarial presidential campaigns in American history is literally making us sick.
More than half of Americans, regardless of their party affiliation, are reporting significant election stress, and it’s particularly affecting older adults, according to the results of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual Stress in America survey, announced this month.
Some therapists are also saying their patients are complaining of difficulty sleeping, irritability and heart palpitations from the nonstop nastiness of the campaign, according to Reuters, whose reporters talked to seven therapists in six states and the District of Columbia.
“I’ve never seen this level of stress and anxiety over an impending election in my 26 years [of practicing], said Nancy Molitor, a Chicago-area clinical psychologist.
Washington, D.C., psychologist Stephen Holland, director of the Capital Institute of Cognitive Therapy, where 12 clinicians see more than 300 patients a week, told The Atlantic that “probably two-thirds to three-quarters of our patients are mentioning their feelings about the election in session.”
The APA survey found that 52 percent of adults say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress. Those age 71 and older are the most anxious (59 percent), followed by millennials (56 percent) and boomers (50 percent).
And “it doesn’t matter whether you’re registered as a Democrat or Republican,” said the APA’s Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for practice research and policy. Across party lines, 55 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans reported being stressed out by the long, appalling slog to Election Day.
Older Americans reporting high levels of election stress was a surprise, said psychologist Vaile Wright, a member of the APA’s Stress in America team. “Older adults typically report lower stress levels than younger generations, so it is particularly surprising to see the reverse is the case with the election,” she told the Washington Post.
One possibility is that older voters are concerned about the election’s implications for their children and grandchildren, Wright said. “Another is that the issues that are particularly important to older Americans — Social Security, Medicare, prescription costs — aren’t being talked about that much by the candidates.”
It’s the opposite in the workplace, however, where younger employees (ages 18 to 34) were more likely than older ones to report feeling tense and argumentative due to political discussions among coworkers, according to another APA survey, Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season.
More than twice as many men as women said office debates about the election were making them less productive. Men were also more than four times as likely as women (18 percent vs 4 percent) to report having argued about politics with a coworker.
Video: Your Brain on Stress - Watch Your Brain on Stress to understand the impact of acute and chronic stress on your brain.
So what can you do, short of severing your internet connection and wearing earplugs 24-7, to manage your election-related stress? Here are some tips from the APA:
*Take a break from the 24-hour news cycle. Read just enough to stay informed. Take time for yourself: Go for a walk, do things you enjoy with friends and family, or read a book.
*Cut back on social media. Nearly 40 percent of adults in the Stress in America survey said political and cultural discussions on social media caused them stress. What’s more, adults who use social media were more likely than those who don’t to say the election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress (54 percent vs 45 percent).
*Avoid getting into discussions about the election if you think they could escalate into a conflict. Be aware of how often you’re discussing the election with friends, family members or coworkers. Find other topics to talk about.
*Realize that worrying 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. Remember that there are state and local elections taking place in many parts of the country, providing more opportunities for civic involvement.
*Keep in mind that life will go on, no matter what happens on Nov. 8. Thanks to our political system and the three branches of government, we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition in government. Avoid catastrophizing; maintain a balanced perspective.
*Vote. In a democracy a citizen’s voice does matter. By voting, you can be proud that you are taking a proactive step and participating in the election cycle, no matter how stressful it has been. Find balanced information on all candidates and issues on your ballet, not just the presidential race, so you can make informed decisions.