How to Cope with Election-Anxiety

Continually checking your cellphone, scrolling news stories or experiencing news cycle fatigue? Sadly, it is impossible to distinguish election-anxiety behaviors like those from COVID-anxiety behaviors when it comes to media use. Both types of anxiety have the same damaging stress responses in your body but they can have very different worries and triggers. Triggers are not the cause of anxiety, but they can activate and intensify it. You can learn how to identify triggers and develop coping strategies that will help manage your election anxiety.

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The Warning Signs of Election Anxiety

Whether you’re anxious about the election or COVID (or both), it may help you to know certain behaviors are reactive rather than purposeful or helpful. These include:

  • Feeling you will miss something if you aren’t plugged in
  • Reading the same news over and over
  • Being drawn to articles that trigger negative emotions, but not being able to stop reading/listening
  • Wanting to continually talk over your election fears with family and friends

Basic Coping Skills for Anxiety

There are some basic coping skills and techniques that you can use to help manage election-related anxiety and keep your stress in check.

  • “Take three deep breaths and imagine something you’re grateful for”
  • “I won’t waste my emotions and energy on things I can’t control. When I allow myself to be preoccupied with the election, I’m giving away my power”
  • “Go do the dishes or the laundry”

How to Help Others Deal with Election Anxiety

When you’re dealing with an anxious friend, partner, child, or coworker, telling them not to worry doesn’t help or work. In fact, it often makes them feel defensive because in trying to make them feel better you are denying their feelings. We all want to have our emotions and worries validated. While anxiety is unpleasant, knowing that others gave empathy for our feelings actually makes us feel safer because we’re not in it alone.

  • Try to normalize their anxiety so they don’t blow it out of proportion. We’re ALL anxious right now.
  • Ask them what things they are worried about that they can control.
  • Depending on the nature of the anxiety, identifying specifics, and making strategies to deal with it ahead of time can help.
  • Explain that doomscrolling is the same as ruminating not problem-solving.
  • Problem-solve anti-anxiety solutions — Ask them what they do to feel less anxious or relieve stress. Hot bath? Silly cat videos? Make-up tutorials? RomComs?
  • Help them create an easy plan to manage stress and anxiety. This might be baby steps into mindfulness, deep breathing, a nature walk or other peaceful activity. No one starts meditating for hours overnight. Even a 5-minute session can help.
  • Develop some positive self-talk about actions they can control and to reaffirm strengths. This is where those 3×5 cards come in handy. For example:
  • “I can’t control the election, but I can encourage people to vote”
  • “I am in control of how I think, feel, and act”
  • “No matter what happens, I can handle it”

Don’t Go it Alone

Social contact is a very good antidote to stress. It’s easier to allow anxiety to ramp up when we’re alone. Reach out to friends, even if it’s on Zoom. Don’t use your friends to rehash your worries, reach out to experience the benefit of their warmth, camaraderie, and emotional support, share some laughs, and hear about others’ lives. Caveat: Don’t hang with friends who are preoccupied with politics online or offline. You want to get away from anxiety, not find new reasons to worry.

Pamela Rutledge is a media psychologist, prof, writer, researcher & consultant, looking for the ‘why’ that drives media consumption, meaning & impact.

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