Election Stress: Psychological Strain of Recent Election Hits Home

Election Stress: Psychological Strain of Recent Election Hits Home

Though Election Day may have passed, local psychologists said the strain partisanship is still causing undue stress and anxiety. Stock photo

Though this year’s election arguably lasted far longer than any other in recent history, the way even the presidential election has lingered in the news has not slowed the amount of stress people are feeling in its wake.

A study conducted by market research firm The Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, released Oct. 7, said 76% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans and 64% of Independent voters said the election was a major stressor in their lives. 

“Many people are isolated, and in such a politically charged environment, there’s just a lot of uncertainty about the future.”

— Dr. Donna Friedman

Local psychologists have witnessed the general anxiety from their patients and the 2020 election’s impact on mental health. Dr. Donna Friedman said among her clients who go to her in her East Setauket practice, she would agree with the APA’s study. And with the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and protests all around the country over law enforcement, the level of election stress is something she has never before seen in her near 35 years in private practice. Worse, lingering questions of a peaceful transfer of power and absentee ballot counts have made this period of heightened tension last.

Though people may not have the same political viewpoints, many of them share similar feelings of stress. Every person is different, and among the many issues of an issue-filled age, individuals have a much bigger opportunity to feel anxious. The APA study points out those with chronic health conditions are significantly more likely to say the election is a very significant source of stress for them.

“For some people the issue is Trump and how he treats women, for another person it might be issues with police, how law enforcement has affected them — it depends,” Friedman said. “It’s not across the board everyone feels the same way.”

What people are feeling stressed and anxious about also depends on different demographics. For people of color, the election was even more of a stressor than previous years, such as with Black people at 71% in 2020 compared to just 46% in 2016, according to the APA study. 

Dr. Chris Kearney, a fellow East Setauket-based psychologist, said with all the external factors, this current election has heightened stress further than he’s seen before from any other election.

Kearney, who works with both adolescents and adults, said young people are afraid of what this pandemic and election mean for them right now, whether it will impact their ability to go to college or get a job. Adults are more stuck on where they are, he said, and it’s more difficult for them to open up. 

“For the teens, it’s what’s going to happen in the immediate right now, for the adults they’re very unrelenting — once they have an opinion, it’s hard to interject another rationale,” he said.  

As a therapist, his role is to stay neutral even when his patients talk about their personal political views, though he said for adults it’s important to know such animosity to the other side can become imprinted on younger children. 

Friedman said people being cut off from their social contacts because of the ongoing pandemic has only helped exacerbate the issue, and this stress is much more apparent with older than younger folks. Older people are more afraid of getting sick, or even being alone and getting sick. Younger people speak less about fear of getting sick, but more so how they will be impacted by the election.

“I think that volatility just continues in our everyday life and behaviors, and that’s why that stress level is increased.”

— Dr. Chris Kearney

“Many people are isolated, and in such a politically charged environment, there’s just a lot of uncertainty about the future,” she said. “People are divided from each other when they really do need to feel connected.”

With more people seeking or coming back to therapy, local psychologists said this charged political time has truly damaged relationships among both family and friends. The APA has suggested people need to break habits of ruminating on the worst-case scenario and instead focus on things one can control and engage in meaningful activities.

Friedman said people need to practice good self-care. Part of that includes limiting time one might spend hooked into the 24-hour news cycle. News can become “addicting,” she said, and it might be best to limit oneself to specific points in the day where you can read or watch to catch oneself up. She added people need to focus on maintaining social connections as best as one can, and should also try to distract oneself from the surrounding negativity through hobbies or other interests, anything from gardening to taking walks. 

Kearney said it’s important to not let a difference of opinion between you, your family, friends or even coworkers become volatile.

“I think that volatility just continues in our everyday life and behaviors, and that’s why that stress level is increased and gets even higher,” he said. “If we work together and help each other, we can maybe reduce that volatility in our relationships.”

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