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2020 Election Anxiety and Depression: How to Cope

election-stress-disorder

Americans have learned to live with stress, anxiety, and depression. Still, elections can ramp up intense feelings around this time, causing distress, uneasiness, and uncertainty as voters head to the polls to decide on the country’s fate.

This experience is so real that it has become known in some circles as “election stress disorder.” According to Health, psychologist Steven Stosny, PhD., first coined the term in 2016. Stosny shared in a Washington Post article that he felt overwhelmed with “distress calls” from patients who were concerned about the presidential election that year. 

“Constant news about the election was stressing out his patients and even interfering with their personal lives, he wrote,” according to Health’s report. 

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While “election stress disorder” is not an official medical diagnosis, as Health notes, the term’s usage has grown over the years to describe the intense changes in mental and emotional well-being that many people feel as an election nears. Elections are important as they decide a nation’s immediate future, and therefore, people’s lives. 

Partisan views also weigh heavily in conversations on health care, education, race, and other issues that people care about. While these discussions are held every day over lunches, dinners, in online forums, and even at the water cooler at work, tensions often come to a boiling point when deciding who will run the country and how. Times like these can eat away at one’s peace of mind and become stressful to deal with, especially if one has to deal with it on some level every day. Even voting and the processes it involves can add to one’s anxiety. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) asserts that election stress is a real thing for many people across groups, regardless of their age, racial or ethnic background, or ability level. Its 2016 “Stress in America” survey found that more than half of Americans “felt the campaign was a very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

Several factors contribute to the condition, including social media use. The APA reported that adults who used social media showed higher stress levels than those who did not.

Some Using Alcohol to Cope with Election 2020 and Pandemic

The overwhelming feelings of election 2016 have occurred again in 2020. While the presidential election of 2020 has come and gone, tensions have lingered.

As the nation watches and waits for the outcome, this is a good time to remember to practice compassion and self-care, which includes finding positive and healthy ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. 

The year 2020 has been one for the record books. Since March, the nation has been battling a global coronavirus pandemic, an unstable economy, and widespread unemployment. 

Pandemic life has changed how we shop, where we eat, and whether we travel. It has changed how and where people go to school and work and whether we socialize. It also has changed where people socialize. Many events have been canceled or postponed, and some places have closed permanently.

People are dealing with these extreme changes differently. Some are picking up alcohol to help them get through these times. Reports early on in the pandemic showed that more people bought alcohol to cope with the pandemic, which has led to increased isolation. People have been forced to work from home and unable to meet with friends and family for gatherings.

Election stress has also led to more alcohol sales. They increased nearly 58% on election night 2020 compared to an average of the four Tuesdays before election night, according to a Forbes article citing Drizly, which tracks alcohol e-commerce. The biggest increases were noted in New York City and Washington, D.C. 

“New York City saw alcohol sales [spike] a whopping 110.4%, while D.C.—the epicenter of election happenings—saw a 132.57% increase in alcohol sales,” Forbes reports.

Election stress and pandemic stress affect many people, as everyone feels stress at some point in their lives. 

However, these times may be especially challenging for people who have been officially diagnosed with a mental health disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which involves high anxiety and depression levels.

Managing Stress Is an Important Way to Take Care of Yourself

Major U.S. elections are also held during the busy holiday season, another time of year associated with good tidings and cheer—and a great deal of stress. It can be too much. 

Stress is all-encompassing as it can affect every aspect of life, from work, school, relationships, and more. For this reason and more, you have to take the reins and manage it in healthy ways. The reality is we will never be able to remove stress entirely from our lives, but we can minimize its effects if we get control of it. 

As the National Institute of Mental Health writes, stress affects everyone, and not all stress is bad. However, long-term stress can adversely affect one’s life, so it is important to seek help if you are having trouble managing it. Stress can cause chronic health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. 

Turning to addictive substances regularly to cope with election stress or stress from any source is something to keep tabs on. Using alcohol and drugs to deal with unpleasant or distressing conditions can become habit-forming. 

A growing dependence and tolerance of addictive substances can lead to addiction and either a mental health disorder or one that worsens. Once addictions are underway, it can be hard to control compulsive substance use that harms one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises avoiding drugs and alcohol to cope with stress, writing that substances can increase stress one feels.

If you are struggling with anxiety and depression stemming from the 2020 election, the holidays, or just in general, here are some things you can do to get your stress under control. It is possible to take care of your mental health needs in a healthy and beneficial way.

Limit Your News Intake


Maybe you like keeping up with what’s going on, or maybe you really do like watching the news. While it is good to stay up to date on the happenings, it can become harmful to stay glued to the TV or your phone to see what is going on next. Too much news exposure can add to your anxiety or make you feel more depressed. 

Psychology Today says too much news exposure can feel overwhelming or numbing. It advises taking some time to think about how you want to receive your news and limit your viewing to a certain time of day. Think of another positive way to spend the time you would use to engage.

Limit Your Social Media Use

As with news coverage online, you may find you need to limit how much time you spend on social media platforms. Doing so can help you get in touch with yourself so that you can gauge what your needs are. You also may feel more productive and up to doing things in real life, such as going outside for a nature walk, calling a friend or family member on the phone, or making yourself a healthy meal.

Exercise and Eat Healthy Meals


Physical exercise and healthy eating benefit our mental and emotional health, too. Going for a daily walk outside or even on a treadmill can give you a boost that gets you through the day, improving your mood and outlook on life. Moving our bodies can help us release endorphins that give us positive vibes. It also helps us build up our immune system, heart health, and stronger muscles. Exercise can also improve the quality of our sleep.

Get Your Z’s

You must get restful sleep. If you do not, you are operating on a sleep deficit that can feed your stress levels and set you up for more challenges. As Verywell Mind says, sleep deprivation can affect your job performance, how often you get sick, how you emotionally react to your friends, family, and coworkers, and how prone you are to accidents. It advises several methods to try to improve sleep, including mindfulness meditation and drinking peppermint tea.

Reach Out and Ask for Help

If you (or someone you know) are struggling during this time, please know that you are not alone and that there is help for you. It is normal to feel fear, sadness, or any other negative emotion as these times are challenging. 

Resources are available to help you, such as the ones the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists here. You can call your doctor, seek guidance from a mental health professional, a counseling center, or a support group, or dial a crisis line for help.

Author

Alyssa Harbina

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