Election stress disorder: What it is and how to cope

A new study suggests talking to yourself can relieve stress. Psychology researchers found talking to yourself in the third person could reduce stress. They theorize the bit of distance from not saying "I" helps people control their emotions. However, this one study does not completely prove the concept. The researchers say more studies need to be done.

Election Day is one week away and as it draws closer, many may be feeling increasingly on edge.

Whether you know it or not, there’s a phrase for that feeling.

It’s called election stress disorder and Washington D.C.-based psychologist and author Steven Stosny used it to refer to the stress he observed in patients following the 2016 presidential election.

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“As a couples' therapist specializing in anger and resentment, I was overwhelmed with distress calls during the recent election cycle. The vitriol and pervasive negativity of the campaigns, amplified by 24-hour news and social media, created a level of stress and resentment that intruded into many people’s intimate relationships. I even named it: ‘election stress disorder,'” he wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post.

While the phenomenon is not a scientific diagnosis according to the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Robert P. Bright, a psychiatrist at the nonprofit academic medical center, says it’s a real concept.

“We notice it in our bodies, the tension in our shoulders. Sometimes people get GI (gastrointestinal) upset or headaches. People have trouble sleeping. There’s a lot of sleep disturbance going on right now — tossing, turning and worrying, and not being able to get to sleep — or having bad dreams about the election,” he told the Mayo Clinic News Network. “(There is) a lot of fearfulness (and) a number of mixed emotions ― people with fear and hypervigilance and constantly searching the news and being on whatever social media outlet you have, and getting these messages.

“I was watching the television this morning, and every commercial has this catastrophic message, ‘If you vote for this guy or that guy, horrific, catastrophic things are going to happen.’ And that constant message creates a sense of anxiety and fear, and diffusely feeling overwhelmed in ourselves,” he continued. "And it affects our emotions after a while. So we start getting irritable and short, and snapping at people, not trusting people, seeing people as the other or as the same. And that starts affecting our relationships at home. It starts affecting our work.”

In a 2019 survey, the American Psychological Association found that 56% of U.S. adults pointed to the 2020 presidential election as a significant stressor. That’s up from 52% of adults who said the presidential election was a significant point of stress when surveyed in 2016 ahead of Election Day.

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As for ways you can lessen your stress as the election draws near, experts recommend taking some time away from consuming updates.

“Avoid watching the 24-hour news channels all the time. Really limit your exposure and do a lot of self-care,” Dr. Sherry Benton, a psychologist and founder/chief science officer of TAO Connect, told CNET.

You can also kindly direct conversations away from chatter about Election Day.

Dr. Valerie Braunstein, a licensed psychologist, said to Good Day Philadelphia the use of “I statements,” such as “I prefer not to talk about that,” can make your feelings apparent in a polite manner.

Psychology Today has a list of ways to cope with election stress, including remaining close to those you disagree with and planning ahead of election night to get the support you need.

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