Election Stress is Real, But Here’s How to Deal

The Nystrom & Associates providers consulted for this article are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) Michelle Iversen and Brett Cushing. Michelle and Brett are Outpatient Therapists and the co-hosts of Psyched for Psychology.  Mid-term elections are approaching, which also means...election stress. Pre-election stress stems from leading up to the election and post-election stress after the results. All that stress can cause anxiety, strained relationships, and overall affect the quality of our lives.  Michelle Iversen states, “Election year after election year, we are actually seeing proof that the stress is increasing among the entire United States population, and the effects of it are becoming worse.” 

Election Stress in America 

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a study on the 2020 election regarding stress, and 68% of American adults said that the election caused a significant amount of stress in their lives.   In 2022, it rose to 76%. In addition, more than a quarter of 76% of people said they are so stressed that they cannot function. And another 66% of those people said that the current political climate is creating and causing that stress.   Across political parties, 70% of adults feel like people in the government do not care about them, with 64% saying their rights feel under attack. Nearly half of adults, 45%, feel like they are not protected by the current laws in the United States.  Brett Cushing expands on this:  
The common theme there is powerlessness. Nobody cares about me; nobody is going to protect me. Associated with politics is powerlessness...In other words, we feel very vulnerable this time of year. 
There is a lot of pressure on one day or person, which adds to the stress of election season.   Related: How to Manage Stress So it Doesn’t Lead to a Breakdown 

Why is There So Much Stress? 

To start, dichotomist thinking plays a crucial role. Brett adds: 
We live in a culture where everything is very dichotomist. It’s either, or. All or nothing. Black or white. So, we look at the election that way too. It’s either going to be the best thing for me, or it’s going to be the worst thing for me. That’s our natural way of thinking. It’s the least complex way possible, and that’s to think in all-or-nothing manners.
Our culture and the media perpetuate this dichotomy by stating specific political figures are “all good” or “all bad.” This dichotomy can be seen in political ads as well. Extreme language is used to paint candidates in a good or bad light. “Starting to hear some extreme language reinforces that dichotomous thinking,” says Michelle. Extreme language is meant to escalate your emotions, which is precisely what dichotomous thinking does. We become anxious, stressed, angry, etc.   Feeling powerless, combined with fears of the future and discouragement, can create a perfect storm for individuals to want to give up and make them feel their vote will not matter. Sometimes it feels like the cards are stacked against us and that there is nothing we can do. So, what can help us get through the stress of election season?   Related: 8 Mindfulness Practices to Reduce Stress 

Focus on What You Can Control 

Determine what you can control vs. what you cannot. A helpful exercise can be to draw two circles and, in one, write down anything that truly is out of your control. On the other, write down the things you can control. They may be hard to see or do, but they are possible. Michelle states: 
Ultimately, whoever wins, whatever election...the outcome might be out of my control. But what is in my control? I can vote; I can have a say. I might be able to do other things, like encourage other people to vote and volunteer. 
Maybe you’ve done all those things, and you’re still frustrated. However, there’s always one thing in that circle that you can control, which is how you respond. Sometimes it feels like you don’t have control over it now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to, either.  Another helpful thing you can control is researching candidates, understanding what’s on your ballot, and current issues being discussed.   Related: Long-Term Effects of Chronic Pain & Medical Issues 

Create a Dialectical Balance  

Moving away from the “all-or-nothing” mentality helps to put things in perspective and create a more realistic balance.   Brett highlights the way we can validate our thinking. “We can look at the person we didn’t vote for and be able to acknowledge and validate, yes, I really don’t like this at all about this person, and I can find something redemptive about them.”   For example, here are additional ways to validate your thoughts and feelings regarding elections and stress:  
  • This is frustrating, and I can still do things; there is still hope.  
  • This is a violation of my values, and I can still work and try to actualize those values in my life.  
Related: How to Cope With Life Transitions 

Coping With Election Stress 

When it comes to election stress (and stress as a whole), it’s important to learn healthy coping strategies.  
  • Talk with supportive people about your thoughts and feelings when they arise (with boundaries, if applicable). 
  • Evaluate the role of social media and the news. Ask yourself, is it keeping me informed, or is it keeping me stressed?  
  • Increase your self-awareness. Where are your emotions currently at? How is it impacting yourself or others? 
  • Incorporate radical acceptance post-election. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval. You can still accept but not approve.  
Related: What Radical Acceptance Is & How to Apply It in Your Life 

A Word From Nystrom & Associates 

Election stress is real. However, finding someone to talk to about that stress can help manage it. A therapist can help you to focus on what you can control and work on the skill of radical acceptance.   Talk with us at 1-844-NYSTROM or request an appointment online at any convenient location.  For more tips on how to deal with election stress, listen to the entire Psyched for Psychology podcast episode: Election Stress is Real, But Here’s How to Deal. Listen wherever you stream your podcasts!  

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