Though roughly 9% of Americans are still undecided about who they’ll vote for in this year’s presidential election (Reuter’s), more than half of adult Americans will be under significant stress when they cast their ballot on November 8. The American Psychological Association (APA) has released preliminary findings from its annual “Stress in America” poll, and results show that regardless of political party, age or race, U.S. adults are suffering from a decline in mental health due to the election.
Adults using social media are particularly at risk, with 54% of men and women who engage outlets like Facebook or Twitter reporting significant stress versus 45% of adults who do not use social media. Likely the added stress for social media users is due to information overload and constant exposure to the onslaught of potentially vitriolic exchanges that can take place through digital communication. Without face-to-face human contact tempering statements, the collision of opposing ideals online can lead to often hurtful or enraging disagreements.
So how can Americans save their sanity in the midst of this election cycle?
- Take a sabbatical from social media. The APA recommends people manage their stress by periodically disconnecting from the 24-hour news cycle to recharge and focus on self-care. Once you’ve consumed a sufficient amount of information to stay informed on top issues, log off and prioritize your personal health. Get moving with physical exercise or indulge in non-political intellectual stimulation, like reading a favorite book or catching up on Netflix. Spend time offline with loved ones and invest in hobbies that bring pleasure to your life.
- Don’t borrow worry from the future. Planning an exit strategy to Canada now in the event of America’s possible demise isn’t helpful. New York Psychiatrist Dr. Lanre Dokun of Healthy Minds NYC calls this type of thinking “catastrophizing.” He says, “A common habit of anxious or stressed out people is believing that if the thing they are worrying about occurs, they will be unable to cope. This is patently untrue. Think about the things you worried about last week, or month or year! And yet, here you are, In one piece!” Trust you’ll be able to navigate whatever the future holds and live in the present.
- Transform anxiety into action. Stress isn’t always negative. Acute stress in small doses can be helpful in spurring us to take needed action. For example, feeling stress when preparing for a big presentation at work can encourage you to do your best. Stressing about what to say on a first date might help you come up with a list of topics to discuss in a pinch when the conversation lulls. But this type of stress is very different than chronic stress that is ongoing, indirect and causes disruption in multiple areas of your life. Instead of allowing stress to linger, acknowledge the anxiety this election cycle presents and then channel your feelings into a more productive response. Use these final weeks leading up to the election to get educated so you can make an informed decision when it’s time to vote. Then, get out there and vote. Your voice matters.