Election Day is quickly approaching, and understandably, tensions seem to be growing higher as the date gets closer.
“Now is an extremely stressful time for many. The implications of the election are huge, no matter your value set, and no matter for whom you plan to vote,” Nzinga A. Harrison, co-founder and chief medical officer of Eleanor Health, told HuffPost.
This is especially true for communities who have been marginalized by policies enacted by the current administration. Given the potential impact of the election result, it’s unsurprising that emotions are heightened — including feelings of anxiousness and worry.
But election-related anxiety doesn’t always manifest in ways you might expect. HuffPost spoke with professionals about the sneaky signs it may be impacting you, and how to keep it in check.
1. Compulsively checking the news
In recent months, maybe you’ve found yourself constantly refreshing your Twitter feed, or losing hours perusing Google News. Some experts say this is a good indication that you’re experiencing some anxiety.
“News stories trigger our instinctive need to know, even when the information has no practical value,” said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, adding that seeking out new information is a “way to try to control the environment and make it less scary.”
Harrison noted that when it comes to reading or watching the news, “moderation is key.” Limiting the amount of time you spend consuming the news (and limiting the number of sources you read) can curb worry surrounding the election. Setting your phone to “do not disturb” mode during designated hours can also help you break the cycle.
2. Being drawn to articles that trigger negative emotions
“Unfortunately, the way algorithms work on some popular social media platforms, the negative content gets filtered to the top,” said Nina Vasan, chief medical officer of the personalized therapy platform Real and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine.
This can easily lead to “doomscrolling,” a term coined to describe the tendency to seek out disheartening or traumatizing media. If you find yourself doing this, it’s probably a sign that your anxiety is heightened. But, as Rutledge explained, “Allowing our emotions to be continually triggered is exhausting, and leads to lack of self-control.”
So, how can you feel a little more empowered and less burnt out? Vasan explained that choosing a few ways to participate in politics can help you to feel a little more in control of your environment. This can look like registering people to vote, sending a letter to one of your representatives or volunteering with local organizations.
“It’s helpful to feel engaged in the world, and [feel] that you’re fulfilling your civic responsibility,” Vasan said.
3. You’re experiencing more trouble sleeping
It’s no secret that anxiety is linked to sleep issues, especially if you tend to dwell on your fears about the election late at night.
“We carry our stressors into our dreams. We carry our muscle tension into our sleep — or lack thereof,” Harrison said. “Difficulty sleeping, whether that is trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep or early morning awakening, is often the first sign that you are anxious.”
In addition to avoiding doomscrolling well into the evening, experts have found that practicing good sleep hygiene can lead to a better night’s rest. Sleep hygiene goes beyond going to bed at a certain time every night; it can include healthy habits like reducing your caffeine intake, creating a relaxing environment, improving your nighttime routine and exercising.
4. You can’t stop talking about politics with family and friends
Vasan explained that speaking about the election in an “unconstructive or ruminative manner” is a sure sign that stress is getting the best of you. (Rumination is a thought pattern that occurs when you think about a problem over and over, which can reinforce feelings of anxiety or depression.) For example, you may find yourself rehashing the presidential debates, or frequently discussing an upsetting interview with no real end goal for the conversation.
Rutledge recommended trying to shift the topic of conversation with family or friends, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to reduce your stress. Another coping skill she suggested is pulled directly from cognitive behavioral therapy: Take a small note card, and write affirmations with phrases such as “I have all the information I need,” or “I won’t waste my emotions and energy on things I can’t control.” This will cultivate new self-talk, and disrupt the tendency to ruminate.
5. You’re generally feeling more irritable than usual
If you notice that you’re feeling more tense in your daily activities, election-related stress might be to blame.
“Even when our brains don’t recognize the trigger, we will develop negative emotions that come from anxiety as our brains try to get us to recognize that something is worrying us,” Harrison said, adding that it’s important to “intentionally schedule activities that bring you joy” to counteract feelings of anxiousness that may also be stirring up irritability or hopelessness.
If you feel as though your anxiety symptoms are impeding your ability to function, consider seeking out a therapist to support you through the next few months.
As Rutledge acknowledged, this election is a true “watershed moment.” Prioritizing your mental well-being during this tumultuous time is important. There’s nothing wrong with disengaging for a moment, setting boundaries around social media or taking a mental health day to practice self-care.
While striking a balance between staying informed and cultivating happiness or hopefulness in your life may be difficult right now, it’s also key to identifying and coping with election anxiety.
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