Election season is—and always has been—stressful. So stressful, in fact, that Couples Therapist Steven Stosny created the term “election stress disorder,” which describes a state of complete and utter stress caused by the election. Think: Smear campaigns on both sides of the political aisle, nonstop news alerts, social media feuds, misinformation.
These are, unarguably, stressful facets of election season—but they don’t just cause stress. They can cause depression, too.
Depression Mid- and Post-Election: What Causes It?
Many Americans are circling the drain of election depression. Specifically, they’re struggling with feelings of despair and hopelessness due to the current political climate. And while they might hope that they’ll feel better after election day, they’re also preparing for these feelings to worsen. “Every election—whether a Republican or Democrat wins—leaves about half of the country unhappy,” explains Landon Sheriff, a Licensed Professional Counselor at Thriveworks Counseling in Richmond, VA.
In addition to the makings of “election stress disorder,” these individuals are worried about…
- Their preferred candidate losing
- Political unrest
- Strained relationships
- The future of the country
Sheriff validates the despair and the hopelessness that can seep in during election. He says it’s normal to feel depressed during this time, especially because “politics have become more than policy.” More specifically, “a reflection of people’s values and morals,” which is at the core of many of our current stressors.
Managing Difficult Emotions Brought on By the Election
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by difficult emotions during times like the present. It’s important, though, as always, to address and manage these emotions properly. First, there are evergreen techniques that can help you alleviate stress and anxiety as well as lift your mood. For example:
- Taking big deep breaths. When you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, practice deep breathing. Breathe in for 5 seconds and then breathe out for 5 seconds. Repeat as many times as needed.
- Finding an outlet. It can also be helpful to channel all of this negative energy into something positive. For example, exercise serves as a great outlet for burning through your anxiety, your stress, or your depressive thoughts. Not to mention that exercising triggers the release of endorphins, which then activate positive feelings.
- Releasing your emotions. In addition to channeling your emotions into an activity like exercising, it’s important to release exactly how you’re feeling—whether that means telling a friend how you’re feeling and what you’re struggling with or writing it down. You can also talk to a professional, if you’d prefer not to talk a loved one about the toll the election is taking on you or if you need a little extra support.
- Giving yourself a break. A lot of the stress, anxiety, and depression that we experience during election season could be spared if we put down our phones. We scroll, scroll and scroll through our social feeds; we refresh our inbox every 30 minutes; we check our preferred news networks morning and night. This nonstop exposure to political news and opinions can certainly take its toll. If you’re feeling the strain, consider taking a break. Put down your phone and vow not to log into your social accounts or check news alerts for a little while.
Consider incorporating these self-care techniques into your day to day as well as employing strategies that can help specifically with the difficult feelings brought on by politics. Sheriff recommends reeling it in and focusing on your own circle. “Meaning, find ways to get control of the immediate world around you,” he explains. Politics affect things at a large scale, but you can still decide how you want to live and how you want to feel. Talk with friends, spend time with family, play games, go for a run. You can do a lot to make your immediate circle a more positive place for yourself.”
In addition, Sheriff says it’s important that we keep it all in perspective and focus on what you can control. “Remember that culture is determined by people. You can change the culture in your community by how you live and how you treat people.”
The Bottom Line: Your Wellbeing Comes First
The election is inherently stressful—not just for those vying to win, but all of their spectators. We’re struggling with this stress, as well as anxiety and even depression, that can surround election season. While we can’t resolve all of the causes of these difficult emotions—such as the negativity and the uncertainty we’ve talked about—we can learn to manage these emotions.
Employ a few evergreen techniques that help you calm down any time you feel overwhelmed by these negative emotions, such as those we discussed above. Also, try to reel it in: Turn your attention to the immediate world around you and focus on what you can control.