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Coping with Election Day anxiety

As the most vicious and divisive presidential campaign in recent history finally culminates this Election Day, there’s one thing most people — Democrat or Republican — can agree on: This election season has been stressful not just for those running, but for everyday American people.

For many across the U.S., election anxiety is real, and there’s evidence — along with anecdotes from mental health professionals — to prove it.

According to a survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) released last month, 52 percent of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress.

The National Mood 14:03

“We’re seeing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re registered as a Democrat or Republican — U.S. adults say they are experiencing significant stress from the current election,” Lynn Bufka, PhD, APA’s associate executive director for practice research and policy, said in a statement.

Republicans seem to be taking it a little bit harder. The survey showed 55 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans reported the election to be stressful.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms appeared to be a significant source of election anxiety, with nearly 4 in 10 adults saying that political and cultural discussions on social media cause them stress.

Another poll from Talkspace, a provider of online therapy, found that more than 60 percent of the 1,025 Americans surveyed reported that this election has made them “highly stressed.”

In that survey, Democrats and Republicans almost equally felt angry and scared while watching the presidential debates. Twenty percent of respondents said they had actively sought help to remedy their election-related mental health issues.

Jor-El Caraballo, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City who works in private practice and offers both face-to-face and online services through Talkspace, said that he’s seen an increase in patients feeling both anxiety and dread not only about the election itself, but also how talking about it, specifically on social media, is affecting their personal relationships.

“For most folks, not only is it the general anxiety about who is going to be the one to run our country and what that might entail, but it’s also the stress of talking to people about it,” he told CBS News. “We [my clients and I] talk a lot about the impact of social media and how it’s a double-edged sword because social media gives us all this access to connect with people but it also means that during campaign season, people are being bombarded with so much information and so much emotion about the election and being confronted with differing opinions from maybe family members, friends, and coworkers in which they may have not heard before.”

Whether it’s the election itself that’s giving you anxiety, or the vitriolic headlines dominating your social media feeds, here are some expert tips with how to cope with the stress:

  • Vote. Making your voice heard through voting is an important step in coping with election-related emotions. “In a democracy, a citizen’s voice does matter. By voting, you will hopefully feel you are taking a proactive step and participating in what for many has been a stressful election cycle,” the APA said in a press release.
  • Be prepared. The voting process itself can add stress to your day, but doing a little planning can make a big difference. Look up your polling location ahead of time and the hours when you can vote. “Give yourself enough time so you’re not feeling pressured,” Caraballo said. “Make sure you’re well fed and do things to take care of yourself so that you are in a good mental state.”
  • Monitor your news consumption. Though how much election coverage one can manage depends on the individual, Caraballo recommends paying attention to how much you’re consuming and how that makes you feel. “I like to remind people that there is a repetitive nature to news, especially if you’re watching on television,” he said. “You’re going to get the same story maybe three times in a half-hour block even if you’re not entirely conscious of that. So I encourage people that if that’s too stimulating for them, maybe watch the first five minutes every hour or half hour and then tune into something else.” If you’re consuming your news on the internet and you notice it’s making you anxious, Caraballo recommends setting 10-minute time limits on reading about the election. “This can be multiple times a day so that way you’re still informed of what’s going on with the election and what the updates are, but you’re not consumed by it the entire day,” he said.
  • Choose your social media battles wisely. This can be a tricky line to toe, but Caraballo suggests taking a pause to stop and think before getting into a political confrontation either in person or online. “If it’s your second cousin twice removed that maybe you only see on the holidays, you might want to stop and consider if it’s really worth it,” he said. On the other hand, if a close family member or friend is expressing opinions you find hurtful or harmful to your mental health, Caraballo recommends seeing a professional to discuss the best way to go about confronting the issue with that person.
  • Remember that life will go on. Regardless of what happens on November 8th, November 9th will still come. “Our political system and the three branches of government mean that we can expect a significant degree of stability immediately after a major transition of government,” the APA reassured us. “Avoid catastrophizing, and maintain a balanced perspective.”
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