Election anxiety is through the roof, experts say. So what can we do?

Nancy Dillon, New York Daily News
·3 min read

In a year fraught with anxiety triggers, this presidential election is working our collective last nerve.

Largely isolated at home in a deeply divided country during a pandemic, many Americans are feeling utterly exhausted.

Some are considering a move if their candidate doesn’t win. But where? Will the place even take you? Is it any further along with its racial reckoning? Are there murder hornets there?

Maybe change the channel? Soap opera and talk show fans couldn’t even do that Wednesday. Election coverage preempted “Days of Our Lives” and ”The View" just when the need for absurd escape hit a peak level.

“I’ve been doing what I do for 28 years, and I have never, ever seen anything like this. Election anxiety is permeating every layer of every interaction we’re having,” Dr. Donna Demetri Friedman, executive director of Mosaic Mental Health in the Bronx, told the Daily News.

Somewhat surprisingly, she didn’t suggest people unplug everything and simply tune it all out.

“I will tell people with COVID, ‘Don’t watch a lot of TV.’ But this election is changing minute by minute, so people are feeling that compulsion to watch and know,” she said. “Sometimes the healthy thing to do is to give yourself permission to feel a little vigilant.”

Instead of a media blackout, she suggested going for a walk while still listening to your preferred coverage or playing music while showering to get “double relaxation” out of an otherwise routine activity.

“Do things like open the windows and breathe, b-r-e-a-t-h-e. And drink lots of water. Do the little things that give you pleasure,” she said.

“I think people are trying to balance their stress levels in various ways, but they’re still desperate to know what’s happening. It’s a stressful balance. This is such an important decision being made,” she said.

“The feeling of exhaustion is real. This election is not giving us any immediate closure,” Dr. Farha Abbasi, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Michigan State University, told The News.

“Usually you have an event, and then you’re happy or sad and everyone starts healing. But our anxiety is still being renewed, prolonged and augmented,” she said. “When you see people who are still fighting and screaming at each other, it’s very disconcerting.”

She was quicker to suggest taking “media breaks” and logging off social platforms.

“It’s important to stay aware of what’s happening, but you need to focus on the positive things around you,” she said.

“People don’t do well with unpredictable situations, so it’s important to hang on to the constants in life, like your faith or family and friends," she said. “We need to very intentional and focused on our health. Meditating or exercising can be very helpful.”

And getting adequate sleep is key, she said.

“Be very, very careful with your sleep. Be consistent,” she said. “Sleep is invaluable, but it’s the first thing we think we can do without. When don’t sleep, our stress hormones increase. Our body feels under attack. A lot of cortisol is released, and invariably, even if we’re not exposed to triggers, our body perceives lot of anxiety. Regular sleep helps calm us down.”

When it comes to the personal relationships that may have fractured over the elections, the experts said timing is everything.

“People feel so strongly about this election, many of them are blind with anger at the moment. It’s still painful. We don’t yet know the outcome,” Dr. Demetri Friedman said.

“I don’t think these repairing conversations can take place right now, at this heightened moment,” she said.

“For someone going through this with a parent or loved one, I’d say they can get some healthy space, convey they love the person but say they need some time to process,” she said.

“The conversations will eventually come. And they will be very, very important," she said.

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