- - Monday, October 24, 2016

Did you ever have a next-door neighbor with abysmal taste in music, who played it at full volume, with full bass, and constantly? That’s what this election campaign is like.

Psychologists in Washington, D.C. and around the country say their offices are filled with campaign-related stress, more than they’ve ever seen. As a nation, we are worried. We are stressed. We are anxious.

Just how stressed are we? According to The American Psychological Association who conducts annual surveys of American’s stress levels, the presidential election is as significant a source of stress as the other top 3 – work, money and the economy. It is remarkable for a presidential election to generate as much stress as the central life issues of making a living and paying the bills.

The online survey of adults 18 and older conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the APA reported that 52 percent found the current election campaign to be a very or somewhat significant source of stress. This was equally true for Republicans as for Democrats. The oldest and the youngest age categories, “matures” and “millennials,” reported the most stress.

And what about you? Do you have any of these signs of election anxiety?

1.”Hypervigilance”. When we feel unsafe we become hyper- alert. We scan the environment over and over again to protect ourselves and make sure there will be no dangerous surprises. In election anxiety hypervigilance takes the form of constantly checking internet news sites and social media.

Generally speaking, people who spend more time consuming news are more anxious.

The 24-hour news cycle and, even more significantly, social media, feed anxiety. In this season there can be no doubt that social media’s incendiary and hostile content are inflammatory. America, seen through a social media filter, can seem like an ugly and threatening place. When online hate and contempt characterize an election, what will it take to come together as a nation afterwards?

If you’re worried about that, you’ve got election anxiety.

2. “Catastrophic thinking.” Do you think about dire predictions of what might happen after the election if one or the other candidate wins? Anxiety and catastrophic thinking go hand-in-hand. Catastrophic speculation is standard fare for television broadcast discussions. Expert analysts are not much better. During the course of this campaign the candidates themselves and their spinners have used apocalyptic language to describe what will happen to America and the world if their opponent wins.

No wonder we’re anxious.

3. Finally, do you feel you are faced with only poor choices? You’re in good company. America is anxious because it faces two unsatisfactory choices. We ask ourselves, how did a great nation of over 300 million people find itself facing the two most unfavorable candidates ever? Where did we go wrong?

In the meantime, for the next couple of weeks, here are some things you can do to manage election anxiety:

  • Check the news and social media just once a day, and then turn them off. You won’t miss anything.
  • Talk with your friends about other things; books, movies, gardening, love, music … real life. 
  • Vote. 
  • Begin to think about how we can do better next time.
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