Name calling. Accusations. Rumors that get nastier by the day. And that’s just in the last week! This election cycle has not been easy—for anyone.
This year, the American Psychological Association (APA) threw in a question about the 2016 presidential race in their annual Stress in America survey. Not surprisingly, pollsters found that 52 percent of us are incredibly stressed out by the upcoming election, and this anxiety cuts across party and gender lines: Democrats and Republicans, men and women, and all age groups are equally distressed.
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that therapist Steven Stosny coined the term “Election Stress Disorder” to describe what his patients are experiencing. “On the surface, it feels like irritability and resentment, [which is] covering up anxiety and a sense of powerlessness,” he told The Washington Post. “It creates a tendency to blame, oversimplify, and devalue other perspectives.”
The bitterness and hostility that’s now reached full throttle is enough to send even the most level-headed person over the edge. Here are some science-backed strategies to help you keep cool and get through the next couple of weeks in one piece.
1. Do a digital detox.
If the 24-hour news cycle is stressing you out, dial back your media consumption. Read enough to stay informed, but take a break from round-the-clock coverage—turn off the TV and go for a walk. Exercise and some fresh air will do wonders to clear your head. Unplug from social media (and all that Facebook unfriending) and spend time with loved ones—in person—doing things you enjoy.
2. Set boundaries around conversations.
Steer clear of discussions about the election if you think they have the potential to escalate and cause conflict. There are many other topics to talk about with friends, family, and co-workers: new movies, books, or your current favorite dish to cook. If you do find yourself in the midst of a political conversation, take a deep breath—in for five, out for five—to center yourself and keep a level head.
3. Channel your energy toward things you care about.
In this election, we perceive the stakes as being very high and our level of control as very low, says Dr. Andrew Shatté, meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer. And that’s a dangerous mix. So do something proactive: Volunteer in your community or advocate for an issue you support.
“Volunteering, giving back in any way large or small, connects us to something bigger than ourselves, which increases our resilience to stress,” says Dr. Shatté. “Living a life filled with meaning has some very positive effects.”
And, of course, vote! In a democracy, every voice matters. You’ll be doing your part and participating in the process.
4. Keep it all in perspective.
One of the thinking traps that feeds anxiety is worst-case thinking, where we “go from a place that’s fact-based to a series of spiraling what-ifs,” explains Dr. Shatté.
Here are the facts: there are four candidates running for office, and one of them will be our next president. Keep in mind that if your candidate loses, the world won’t end. Whatever happens on November 8, life will go on, so avoid catastrophizing.
“We need to remind ourselves that our founding fathers created a democratic process of checks and balances,” says Dr Shatté. Our political system and the three branches of government ensures a significant degree of stability, even following a major transition of government.
5. Give meditation a try.
Now is a great time to take up mindfulness meditation, a practice of training the mind to be present moment by moment. “You can learn meditation through books, tapes, videos, and apps, but you don’t really need a formal practice,” says Dr. Adam Perlman, meQuilibrium’s Chief Medical Officer.
You can start simply by finding a quiet space to sit and focusing on your breathing. Staying present keeps our minds from wandering into “what if’s” and other ruminations, which can spiral into increased unhappiness and stress. Research shows that meditation reduces anxiety and encourages calm and clarity.
Meditation also teaches us that change is inevitable, and that thoughts and feelings come and go. So remember that election season won’t last forever. With the campaign finally in the home stretch, this too shall pass.
Janet Ungless is a New York-based editor and writer with expertise in wellness, health and fitness. She developed the content strategy for the launch of aloha.com and has managed content creation for several other startups. She’s written for Prevention, More, Livestrong, and Everyday Health and also worked at exhale mind body spa. Find her on Twitter @jungless