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How to Overcome Post-Election Day Stress and Fear

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Key Takeaways

  • Prolonged stress doesn’t just affect your mental health, it can also affect you physically with symptoms like chest pain and fatigue. 
  • Psychologists say past experiences can play a role in how our fears and anxieties affect us.
  • There are ways to combat post-election fears and stress, like taking a break from watching the news and regularly exercising.

While millions of Americans head to the polls today, many will be battling with more than just the stress of staying safe and socially distant from other voters among the coronavirus pandemic—they very well may be dealing with serious post-election fears and anxiety. In fact, 68% of U.S. adults said the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life, according to a survey released in October by the American Psychological Association.

For Lauren Dranoff, a Democrat from Philadelphia, the fears swirling in her head are very real.  

“The state of our country is frightening right now. I’m scared for violence," the 29-year-old marketing specialist tells Verywell. "I’m not in the city this week because I’m worried about the potential for violence."

Dranoff says she’s already seen her diverse city show signs of hostility, with some city-goers flipping off campaign signs on the street and others making crude remarks as they walk by them. 

Psychologists have recognized an increased amount of stress and anxiety in their patients too. 

Kathryn Smerling, PhD, LCSW, a Manhattan-based family therapist, says many of her patients have voiced their escalating concerns during this year’s presidential election. 

“Most everyone would like this election to be over,” Smerling tells Verywell. “The election has been divisive between family and friends, and without distraction, it has been harder to make light of these differences. The fact that there have been riots and a lack of general decorum is only further collectively traumatizing the country.”

With headlines about businesses boarding up storefronts and governors preparing to call on the National Guard in the event of post-election violence, it’s easy to see why so many Americans are on edge.

Arash Javanbakht, MD, the director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC) at Wayne State University, tells Verywell that he reminds his patients that it’s normal to be stressed, exhausted and frustrated these days, but that stress isn’t going to change outcomes. But it can influence how you live your life.

Psychologists and neuroscientists have spent decades studying the role that fear plays in our lives, specifically how past experiences can influence our fears.

A major concern for Dranoff is having history repeat itself.

“As a Jewish American, the scariest part about the 2016 election, definitely at the start of it, was seeing swastikas drawn all over my neighborhood—it scared the crap out of me,” she says. “I think that’s where a lot of my fear comes in: those kinds of things coming up again if the election does not go the way certain people want it to."

For Dranoff, that fear and stress has physiological effects.

“It’s affected a lot of things; it’s definitely affected my sleep, and my anxiety levels have been very high,” she says.

According to the American Psychological Association, physical effects of stress may include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Upset stomach
  • Weakened immune system
  • Change in sex drive
  • Acid reflux

Despite all the uncertainty right now, experts say there are things you can do to combat post-election fears and anxiety.

What This Means For You

There’s no need to be ashamed if you’re dealing with extra anxiety these days. In fact, experts say it's completely normal. Try to limit your late-night social media scrolls and get outside for some exercise to clear your head. 

Take Social Media Breaks

Carole Lieberman, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, California, tells Verywell to squash your habit of doom-scrolling—right now.

“Some people have gotten into the habit of 'doom-scrolling,'" Lieberman says. "This can absorb them for hours, especially when they wake up in the middle of the night filled with worry. Doom-scrolling only increases our uncertainty and expectation of doom."

Limit Your News Consumption

Javanbakht says he tells his patients to limit their time watching cable news to a half hour a day. He compares our brains to our stomachs: If you feed your belly a bunch of unhealthy foods, you’ll eventually get sick; and if you feed your brain with stressful, anxious news, you can end up feeling unwell or depressed. 

“Pick your favorite anchor, and listen to whoever it is for a half hour," Javanbakht says, explaining that's all the time you need. "For the rest of the day, they are just repeating the same thing. [If] you want to watch something, watch movies, watch documentaries, watch comedy shows—any of these things [instead of news].”

Exercise

Smerling says that working out allows for a sense of control when so much is out of our hands.

“Right now, you have to act in the best interest of your own mental and physical well-being. Get some exercise," she says. "Bundle up and go outside for a walk. Focus on the things you can change, not on the things you cannot change." 

Javanbakht adds that cardio exercise can be especially helpful in reducing levels of anxiety. 

“It boosts the immune system, it improves blood flow to the brain, it even causes growth in areas of the brain that helps us control anxiety," he says. "[Cardio] is basically a kind of exposure therapy to physical symptoms of anxiety."

Control What You Can

For Dranoff, keeping busy and staying focused on what she can do to get more people to the polls this year has helped her manage her election and post-election fears. 

“My company launched an initiative called 'Promote the Vote' back in August, and I’ve been putting a lot of effort into that," she says. "I’m also volunteering as an election protection social media monitor with Common Cause, which is a nonpartisan organization, so it’s been really awesome to have that."

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  1. American Psychological Association. 2020 presidential election a source of significant stress for more Americans than 2016 presidential race. Updated October 7, 2020.

  2. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body. Updated November 1, 2018.