In August, the American Psychological Association included a question in its annual Stress in America survey about this election. It released the results of that particular query on Thursday, and it found that more than half of U.S. adults, regardless of party, felt very or somewhat stressed by the election.
One can only imagine that what’s transpired over the past week has intensified the disgust, anxiety and disbelief felt by so many Americans.
That the election is causing anxiety in more than half the country’s population puts it in line with other major life stressors, such as the economy, money or work, said Lynn Bufka, the APA’s associate executive director for policy.
“It could be how negative the whole campaign is, the discord is particularly heated, we seem to be more polarized,” she said. “Also, we can work ourselves up over what the future president could do and if we get wrapped up in a lot of what ifs, that can make us really stressed, too.”
As we noted in another piece about the very real “Election Stress Disorder,” Americans have been expressing serious anxiety about a potential Trump or Clinton presidency as far back as January. One element of the elevated stress people feel is that these candidates in particular evoke stronger emotions than most politicians.
Not surprisingly, adults who use social media were more likely than those who don’t to say the election was bumming them out, according to the APA poll.
“One of the challenges of being active in social media is that it’s always there,” Bufka said. “The social niceties seem to slip away when we’re online, we might be bolder or blunter, or it’s more readily misinterpreted. I urge people, walk away from it, it’s okay to not be plugged in all the time.”
Notably, the demographic feeling it the most are seniors. Close to 6 out of 10 people over 71 years old said they were stressed by this election. Millennials were the next most angst-ridden group.
“We do know that 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,” said Vaile Wright, a Washington, D.C.-based psychologist and member of APA’s Stress in America team. “So we can only guess as to the reasons older adults might be more likely to report election stress — one possibility is that they are concerned about the future for their children and grandchildren. 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.”
But, here’s the good news. For people who are willing to address their election stress head on, there are real-life skills to be harnessed. For instance, Bufka said people can learn how to more actively set boundaries in conversations. It’s okay to tell people that you’d rather not talk about the election and change the subject, she said. Or, if they can manage to keep their cool around a co-worker with opposing political viewpoints that could carry forward to other future interactions.
The APA outlined a few more ways to manage the stress of this election. And, if none of the below helps you cope, just keep reminding yourself there’s less than four weeks to go until it’s over.
• If the 24-hour news cycle of claims and counterclaims from the candidates is causing you stress, limit your media consumption. Read just enough to stay informed. Turn off the news feed 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 getting into discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate to conflict. Be cognizant of the frequency with which you’re discussing the election with friends, family members or co-workers.
• 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 in addition to the presidential election, there are state and local elections taking place in many parts of the country, providing more opportunities for civic involvement.
• Whatever happens on Nov. 8, life will go on. Our political system and the three branches of government mean that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government. Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.
• Vote. In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter. By voting, you will hopefully feel you are taking a proactive step and participating in what for many has been a stressful election cycle. Find balanced information to learn about all the candidates and issues on your ballot (not just the presidential race), make informed decisions and wear your “I voted” sticker with pride.