4 ways to prevent and eliminate post-election stress
Posted November 13, 2016
You cast your vote. You saw the results. The winning and losing candidates have spoken, attempting to heal the divisions an election can create.
But so-called election stress disorder doesn't always wash away after the votes are counted.
Dr. Asim Shah, vice chairman for community psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told the Los Angeles Times that although the disorder may not be well known, it is real and its impact should not be dismissed.
According to Shah, symptoms include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweaty palms, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and a sinking or doomed feeling.
The American Psychological Association revealed in its recent "Stress in America" poll that the 2016 presidential election was a source of significant stress for more than half of Americans.
The APA surveyed 3,500 adults in August and found that 55 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans said the election is a "very significant" or "somewhat significant" source of stress.
Even President-elect Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton opted to minimize post-election stress and calm the electorate by appealing to unity in their respective victory and concession speeches.
“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump said. “It is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.”
"We owe him (Trump) an open mind and a chance to lead," Clinton said. "We must accept this result and look to the future."
So if you are one of the many still stressed out in the days following the election, below are four ways to combat election stress disorder or eliminate it entirely.
1. Write down your worst fears, then address them
Grab a pen and paper and answer the following questions:
What exactly are you worried will happen if your candidate loses? What are your worst fears?
Shah told the Los Angeles Times that if you write these fears down on a piece of paper, you can address them one by one. Once you have your list, fact-check and logically think about what is actually possible.
Shah hopes this exercise will help you realize that at least some of your fears are unfounded.
2. Take a break from social media
Stress expert Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, explained the significance of social media in this election.
“This is really our first election where social media is rampant, where we’re trafficking in dogmatic points of view,” Temple said in an interview with Time magazine.
By limiting your use of social media, you can avoid a screen-induced stress response, Time reported.
The screen-induced stress response was evident in APA's poll, which found that nearly 4 in 10 adults (38 percent) say that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress.
Voters who use social media, though, are more likely to be stressed than those who don't use social media (54 percent vs. 45 percent, respectively).
These numbers can be attributed to intense social media exchanges that can lead to additional stress.
“Election stress becomes exacerbated by arguments, stories, images and video on social media that can heighten concern and frustration, particularly with thousands of comments that can range from factual to hostile or even inflammatory,” said Lynn Bufka, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy.
3. Take a few deep breaths
You often hear this at the doctor's office. "Now relax and take three deep breaths."
It sounds simple, but it does wonders.
According to ABC News, this basic breathing exercise is another simple way to bring down your heart rate.
Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist and member of APA's Stress in America Team, instructs you to breathe in deeply for three to four seconds. Then hold your breath for a brief moment before slowly beginning to breathe out.
"Focusing on your breathing is one of the easiest things you can do," Wright said in an interview with ABC News. "That is something where you'll feel an immediate reaction."
So if you need a "cure now" stress remedy, something as simple as breathing may just be your elixir.
4. Remember, life goes on
It may seem like the end of the world, but it's not.
In conclusion of its study, the APA offered a few pieces of advice moving forward.
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, life will go on. America's political system and the checks and balances provided by three branches of government mean that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government. The APA recommends voters "avoid catastrophizing and maintain a balanced perspective."
Shah and the Los Angeles Times echoed this, noting that it's important to remember that very little will change overnight.
The new president won't take office until January, and even then, very few politicians are able to carry out many of their campaign promises due to the gridlock in Washington, D.C., Shah said.
“You have to be realistic,” Shah said. “There is no need to be stressed about something that likely won’t happen.”
President Obama offered his remarks on Wednesday, giving the American people the peace of mind that we are on the same team.
"Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we're actually all on one team," Obama said. "We all want what's best for this country."
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