Avoiding stress this election season
“Politics ain’t bean-bag.”
Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne’s famous quote tends to ring true in years Americans go to the voting polls. Too bad the spectacle often catches us at our worst. Americans have many legitimate concerns and grievances, and have relentlessly been treated with the sight of candidates for the nation’s highest office attacking each other’s pasts, appearance and even spouses during 2016’s primary season.
Sadly, the rhetorical excess and appeals to anger that have so far dominated this election seem to be trickling down to children. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Teaching Tolerance project surveyed 2,000 K-12 teachers about how the election was affecting students and schools. Two-thirds of the SPLC’s respondents reported certain students – children of immigrants, Muslims and children who were immigrants – were expressing concerns or fears about what the election results meant for them and their families.
- For more on politics and behavioral health, see our editorial series: State of Addiction Policy
Additionally, more than one-third of the teachers who responded reported an increase in anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim sentiment, and more than 40 percent were reluctant to teach about the election.
Even voting can be stressful.
Stress and voting
Researchers from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) examined voting records obtained from the Nebraska secretary of state and found a connection between cortisol levels – commonly called the “stress hormone” – and voting. They then engaged in a field experiment during the 2012 election, examining how different random groups voted. One group was assigned to vote directly at the polling place, a second group voted from home and a third group – used as a control group – voted how they usually would, but then went to the store to make a small purchase.
The results showed that cortisol levels were higher in those voters who went to the polls; for the control group that went to the store, the data showed that decision-making wasn’t the stressor – it was the polling place itself.
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Additional research has also shown a relationship between cortisol and voting. Researchers from UNL, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Rice University analyzed saliva taken from over 100 participants and found those voters with lower levels of cortisol were more likely to vote.
“Politics and political participation is an inherently stressful activity. It would logically follow that those individuals with low thresholds for stress might avoid engaging in that activity and our study confirmed that hypothesis,” said study lead author and University of Omaha professor Jeff French, Ph.D., in a University of Omaha press release.
So even engaging in democracy’s fundamental duty is stressful. It’s enough to make anyone throw in the towel. Fortunately, there are steps anyone can take to fight election stress.
Taking a strong stance against election stress
First off, consider unplugging once in awhile. Americans are connected to the news cycle nearly 24/7 these days thanks to mobile technology like cellphones. According to Pew Research, 68 percent of Americans own a smartphone, and 35 percent have a tablet device of some kind. Meanwhile, information measurement company Nielsen says television watching takes up over six days’ worth of time every month. Taking a break by just going outside once in a while can help improve one’s mental health.
Secondly, consider reacting differently to unpleasant political news. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychology in 2010 found engaging in acts of kindness can increase one’s satisfaction with life.
Finally, keep perspective. Anxiety is often about the fear of the unknown. Anxious people often anticipate dire results that may not happen. Take losing: Conventional wisdom might lead most people to assume those on an election’s losing side would be more depressed and in extreme cases, have a greater chance of doing something rash like self-harm. However, a study published in 2010 in the journal Southwestern Social Science Quarterly found the exact opposite. After studying state suicide rates from 1981 to 2005, the researchers found the suicide rate in states which supported the losing candidate tended to be lower than expected.
Additionally, the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers more tips for avoiding election season stress, including:
- Don’t personalize the political stances and views of others
- Become – and stay – informed about the candidates, their beliefs and values
- Maintain good self-care and wellness habits such as exercise, diets and regular sleeping hours
Anxiety is treatable
Anxious people aren’t alone – anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in the U.S., affecting 18 percent of Americans according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). They’re also treatable, but the ADAA also says only around one-third of people with anxiety disorders ever get treatment. They take a strong financial toll as well – the ADAA’s studies have shown anxiety disorders cost the U.S. over $42 billion a year.
Left untreated, anxiety can cause physical complications as well as being a potential cause of substance abuse. The Sovereign Health Group is a leading provider of mental health treatment. Our staff of compassionate experts treats their patients as individuals, ensuring the best chance at a full recovery. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at firstname.lastname@example.org.