With President Trump recently hospitalized for COVID-19 — just days after one of the most divisive presidential debates in history, and less than a month away from Election Day — stress and anxiety surrounding politics is at an all-time high.
“One therapist coined the term ‘election stress disorder,’” says Yahoo Life mental health contributor Dr. Jen Hartstein. “We’re all feeling overwhelmed, and the contagion of the emotion from one of us to the other is causing an increase in our general dysregulation, and we’re having a really hard time figuring out how to navigate the day-to-day.”
Though this is not the first election we have lived through, Hartstein notes that it’s still unprecedented, and that it could be affecting our mental health in ways we’ve never experienced before.
“It’s important to note when that anxiety might be tipping into something more problematic,” she says. “Anxiety is on a continuum, we all fall in different spaces, but if you notice that you’re feeling anxious more days than not, or you’re finding that you’re isolating more or maybe you’re feeling more sad and depressed, it may be a really good time to try and reach out to someone for help.”
With opinions coming from every direction these days, many may find themselves in arguments or disagreements over politics with people in their lives that they’ve never fought with before. “Disagreement is fine, as long as disagreement can be done in a healthy way,” Hartstein says. “When we talk about politics, we all know we dig in our heels, and sometimes those conversations aren't always so productive.”
Hartstein advises not being afraid to set boundaries with loved ones to avoid unnecessary conflict at an already stressful time.
“With our families, if we know we're trying to get together at such a challenging time already, maybe we set up some real times where politics are off the table, we do not discuss it,” she says. “We want to stay engaged and connected rather than separated and pushed apart.”
Hartstein explains that for some, it may mean ending contact altogether, at least temporarily.
“You have every right to set the limits that work for you, and if that doesn't work for all the people in your lives, figure out who it works for and stick with those people,” she says. “This is going to be a challenging two months for many, so you want to make sure that you are feeling OK and taking care of yourself the best way possible, even if that means limiting some conversations with other people.”
Set times to unplug
“We live in a 24-hour news cycle, and the news is coming at us all the time, and it's intense,” Hartstein explains. “That doesn't do such great things for our body's ability to calm down, reset and relax.”
Studies have shown a link between heavy social media use and sleep deprivation, and with our phones in hand, delivering us news round the clock, the inability to disconnect and recharge could be significantly impacting our mental health.
Hartstein suggests picking a set time to check the news each day, as well as times when all notifications are switched off.
“It's important to put the phone away, to shut off all of the alerts on your phone, to maybe close down your social media at certain times of the day,” she says. “The same way that you would set boundaries with people in your life, you may have to create boundaries for yourself. So think about what will work best for you, put that into place, and follow it.”
“Many people are feeling powerless at this time with so much happening and it feeling so overwhelming,” Hartstein explains. “One of the ways to kind of regain our power is to figure out how to get involved and figure out where in fact you can control different things.”
Hartstein says that inciting action in your life by becoming involved in different ways can alleviate feelings of powerlessness. “Can you become a poll worker? Can you help register people to vote? Can you get behind your candidate and support them? Can you find ways to share information on ways to vote?” she asks. Because when it comes to politics, Hartstein suggests seizing opportunities that allow you to take back control, however small they may seem.
Live by your values
“While we're all feeling a lot of stress and anxiety, one of the most important things to do is live the life you wanna live,” Hartstein says. “Live life by your values, by your choices and kind of guided by your own morality.”
Hartstein explains that one of the best things you can do to comfort yourself in times of uncertainty is to be true to yourself and what you believe in. Taking time to reconnect with the values that are important to us can help us feel grounded in our belief systems, and can act as a guide for us to live by in difficult times.
Look for the good
Harstein explains that although this election season is fraught with reasons to feel worry, you can still make an effort to recognize the positive things going on in your life.
“Don't lose sight of the things that you do to take care of yourself, engage in that self care,” she says. “Engage in things that bring you joy and enjoyment, connect with the people that you love, and remind yourself not everything is bad.”
She adds, “Look for the good things, and make sure you engage in those as much as you focus on the news and the other things that cause you stress.”
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