The 2016 election has proven to be one of the most stressful in living memory. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, more than 52% of adults in the United States claim that this election was a significant source of stress in their lives. Everyone has felt it regardless of party affiliation. But why? Why is this election more taxing than preceding ones? This campaign was one of the most negative and vitriolic campaigns in U.S. history, causing the country to become increasingly more polarized than it has been prior. Our country has been slowly moving towards a more divisive two-party system for many years, but the race between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump seems to have been most exacerbated. The debates between both candidates and voters were extremely heated and continue to be. The social media frenzy kept voters’ minds always on the election without any respite from the madness. Americans were continuously exposed to candidates’ harsh attacks and the magnified, unrepresentative sound bites from large media sources.
When you hear the words, Election Stress Disorder, you may think it is a joke, but the American Psychological Association (APA) states it is a very real ailment currently sweeping our nation. Similar in name to the well-known and more serious Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ESD can manifest in physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, sweaty palms, trouble sleeping, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. The list of emotional or psychological symptoms is more extensive. Emotional and psychological symptoms include:
Thankfully, the APA and several psychotherapists have suggested coping mechanisms to deal with Election Stress Disorder. In a recent APA study result, adults who use social media are more likely to say the election is negatively affecting them. Therefore, the first way to avoid exposure is simple: reduce all forms of media consumption. Maybe try to spend a little less time on Facebook perusing top trending articles, or recent status updates. You might think to listen to music instead of talk radio, or read a biography instead of the politics section of your morning newspaper. Not to say cut out all media completely, because it is necessary to stay up to date on current events, but try to safely consume just enough to stay informed without causing distress. If possible, try to avoid political discussions when there are obvious signs that it could lead to a heated argument. Discussing beliefs and opinions is healthy and sometimes necessary, but only if it does not contribute to heightened stress. To combat the feeling of powerlessness, try putting some of your beliefs into action by volunteering or joining a local organization seeking to make a difference. This, along with voting in all major and minor elections, can help give you a sense of control and aid in assuaging anxiety. Lastly, remember that if you put effort into reducing the effects of ESD, over time you will be able to resume your normal daily life and hopefully feel as though you have thoroughly processed the emotional effects of this most recent election.