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Election Stress Disorder: What It Is, and How to Handle It

If the upcoming 2020 Election Day has you feeling more anxious and on-edge than usual, you’re not imagining it.

You’re likely struggling with Election Stress Disorder (ESD) like many other people this time of year.

At this point, we’ve all been living through a global pandemic for more than half a year. COVID-19 has flipped everyone into the unknown, and changed just about everything in our regular lives. Plus, we’re dealing with the wildfires, racial injustice, protests, and the crazy news cycle. Clearly, there’s plenty of stress to go around for all of us.

Throw the presidential election in the mix — an election that’s dividing families and entire communities — and it’s a recipe for some serious anxiety.

In other words, it’s okay if you’re feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed.

What is Election Stress Disorder (ESD)?

The term “Election Stress Disorder” is being thrown around a lot lately, in reference to how many people are feeling about the upcoming election. So, let’s look at what it is, and what you can do about it.

It was first coined back in 2016 by Steven Stosny, PhD, a psychologist who has written books on compassion, anger, and relationships. He used the term in an article for The Washington Post, in which he was writing about being overwhelmed with distress calls from patients during the 2016 election. The constant election news stressed out his patients, even to the point of interfering with their personal lives.

For the record, you can’t be diagnosed with ESD, because it’s not an actual medical diagnosis. However, it’s certainly a real issue that countless individuals are currently dealing with, and have dealt with before. It is especially common for people in marginalized communities. And having a term for this phenomenon is extremely helpful.

So, what do you do if you’re experiencing this intense level of election-related stress?

Though it’s difficult to detach oneself from thinking about the election, it’s important that we find real, effective ways to deal with our anxiety. 

Here are a few ways to deal with the tension and help you feel a little more zen leading up to Election Day.

Take a Digital Detox

Look, I know its obvious, but it is necessary. If you find yourself more anxious after spending some time on social media, take the apps off your phone completely. You may have withdrawals for a few days — yes, really — but ultimately your mental health will thank you.

However, don’t cut yourself off from the news completely. If you do, you’ll more than likely get anxious that you’re missing out on something. Instead, check one news site each day in the morning and in the evening. Read the articles you want to read, see what’s going on, and leave it at that! Sign off from the internet.

Write Down How You Feel

Take the time to journal your thoughts and feelings. Even if you don’t feel like you have extra time in your day, make time — even if it’s just five minutes before bed.

Write whatever you’re thinking and don’t worry about how it sounds or if there are spelling errors. We tend to bottle up a lot of our emotions and thoughts, which can heighten our anxiety, so just being able to put them on paper will help. 

Move Your Body and Your Mind

By now, I think most people are aware of how physical activity can boost our mental health. I mean, you have been reading my articles, right?

Just get up and move. It doesn’t have to be an intense weight-lifting session at the gym, either. Just a quick walk around the block is enough to get your endorphins going, if that’s more your speed.

While you’re at it, try to give your mind a little workout of its own. Set aside a little time each day for a quick meditation. The more you practice, the better you’ll get! This will help to clear your mind and allow you to focus on what’s happening in the present moment. 

Kat Sweet

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