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Election Stress Disorder: How Election Season Can Affect Mental Health and What To Do About It

With the next presidential election looming, many of us are feeling our anxiety rise. If you’ve found yourself tossing and turning at night, unable to relax the tension in your shoulders, or even having stomach discomfort, you’re not imagining things: you might be experiencing election stress disorder.

While election stress disorder isn’t an official diagnosis, it is a real phenomenon, according to the Mayo Clinic. A recent study found that 68% of adults attributed a rise in anxiety to the 2020 election, significantly up from the 41% who said the election caused them anxiety in 2016. Election anxiety is even worse for minority and marginalized communities, with the percentage of Black adults reporting election stress jumping from 46% in 2016 to 71% in 2020.

Election stress can significantly impact people with existing mental illnesses. Around the 2020 presidential election, office visits for mental health support and prescription drug usage for mental illness rose sharply. The 2020 election also saw a marked rise in self-reports of anxiety and depression.

Voting and civic engagement can have benefits

But it’s not all doom and gloom, however. Voting can also increase a sense of connection to your values and community, and some researchers hypothesize that voting can help people with mental illness feel less excluded from society. Participating in presidential elections also allows us to vote with our values, which is an empowering experience.

So before the anxiety of election season starts to build, here are a few tips to engage in voting in a healthy way.

Plan ahead with your care team

Talk to your therapist or psychiatric clinician about how to manage the increased stress around election times before you feel overwhelmed. This can look like creating a self-care plan, adjusting medication dosage, or putting a few extra therapy sessions on the calendar in March or November.

Unplug from constant election coverage

We’re living in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, and especially around election times, we get more information than we know what to do with. Don’t be afraid to step away from the constant cycle to protect your mental well-being.

Avoid dwelling on the things you cannot control

Trying to control the uncontrollable is a recipe for anxiety. During Super Tuesday and election season, try to stay grounded in what you have control over. A handy tool is the Circles of Influence, Concern, and Control model, which helps remind us of when to let go.

Engage socially and civically

Depending on your level of energy and time, engaging in your community on a civic level can help you feel connected and grounded this election season. Make sure to honor your limits and seek support when you need it.

Stay non-judgmental about yourself and your feelings

Election season brings considerable anxiety and stress for many of us. Remember to stay open to the experience and hold compassion for yourself, whatever emotions you experience.

Written by

  • Julian Lagoy

    Julian Lagoy is an MD and board-certified psychiatrist with Mindpath Health in San Jose, CA. Mindpath Health is a leading provider of high-quality outpatient behavioral health services, offering in-person and telehealth visits. We coordinate care with primary care physicians and referring providers to ensure a focus on total health. Visit mindpath.com to partner with us.

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