Feeling stressed about the 2020 elections? You’re not alone

Mental health experts share how to cope with election-related stress and anxiety.

By Molly Gluck and Katherine Gianni

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash.

There is one thing that Americans can all agree upon this election season: feelings of mounting stress. According to a new survey from the American Psychological Association, U.S. voters are reporting a significant uptick in their election-related anxieties. The survey found that 76% of registered Democrats, 67% of registered Republicans and 64% of Independents said that the upcoming presidential election is causing distress in their lives — a sharp increase when compared to the findings from 2016.

We spoke with Dr. Michelle Durham, psychiatrist and Professor of Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, and Dr. John Otis, Director of the Behavioral Medicine Program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and Research Associate Professor at the Boston University Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences to share actionable advice for reducing and coping with election-related stress and anxiety. From limiting 24-hour news consumption, to engaging in healthy, rather than heated discourse online, these professors lend their expertise for navigating a tense political climate — both on Election Day, and beyond.

How is the election affecting stress and anxiety? Why is this election particularly stressful for Americans?

Durham: The election is stressful and anxiety-provoking for most of us — if not all. There’s been so much racism, xenophobia, homophobia, things being said at the national level about people that are contradictory to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ In this vein, each of us then thinks, what is life going to be like for me after this election? Is this election going to pan out to be a safe place where I can thrive? There are so many real issues on the line — the right to healthcare, our nation’s COVID-19 response, freedom to choose who we love, and the right for women to take charge of their own health — to name a few. For those of us with intersectional identities, this election can be especially stressful.

What are the best ways to relieve stress and anxiety when it comes to something we cannot control on an individual level, like the election outcome?

Staying up-to-date on the news can increase stress levels. How can we stay aware and informed while taking care of our mental health?

Photo by Amanna Avena on Unsplash.

Otis: While many people may be tempted to stay up to date minute by minute on the election results, it is possible that the results of this election could be significantly delayed. Engaging in constant scrolling and refreshing for news updates can actually contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress. It’s like continuously watching the Weather Channel before a Nor’easter — at some point you just become saturated with information and you need to take a break. People should limit their consumption of news, particularly before going to bed, and make time for other activities that improve quality of life such as spending time with family.

How can we communicate about the election in productive ways with others, both in person and across social media? Do you have recommendations for effectively communicating about the election with people who have different political opinions?

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Dr. John Otis at @DoctorJOtis, follow Dr. Michelle Durham at @MdurhamMD, and Boston University School of Medicine at @BUMedicine on Twitter.

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts

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