Post-Election Anxiety: 7 Ways to Care for Your Mental Health

Post-Election Anxiety: 7 Ways to Care for Your Mental Health
  • If your presidential candidate didn’t win, it may affect your mental health.
  • The polarization during this election cycle may play a part in post-election stress.
  • There are ways to manage your mental health post-election.

Post-election anxiety can be particularly difficult for people when the candidate they supported doesn’t win. In fact, they may face even more strain on their mental health if they live in a state that supported their candidate.

Additionally, the more the candidate loses by, the greater the number of days of stress and depression for residents in those states.

According to a study led by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Duke University, researchers analyzed data from nearly 500,000 adults, looking at mental health indicators during the 2016 general election.

They found that people who lived in states with a Hillary Clinton majority experienced on average an additional half-day of poor mental health in the month following election (December) compared with the month before (October).

Brandon Yan, UCSF medical student and health policy researcher, says the findings indicate that elections could impact public mental health, and election-related stress should be monitored.

“Our findings from the 2016 election suggest that voters of the candidate who loses, especially if this candidate lost unexpectedly, are most at risk for worsening of mental health. The climate in 2020 is also further polarized than in 2016, which could contribute to people’s response to an election outcome,” Yan told Healthline.

In fact, a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that 68 percent of adults in the United States said that the 2020 election is a significant source of stress in their lives. Only 52 percent said the same about the 2016 election.

The COVID-19 pandemic further intensifies our anxiety and emotions

President Donald Trump’s and President-elect Joe Biden’s attitudes toward the pandemic may be adding to the stress and polarization voters feel.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased social isolation and further polarized our country politically, which likely affects how people respond to the outcome of the 2020 election,” explained Yan.

“One of the most stark differences between the two presidential candidates was their differing approaches to the pandemic, so for that reason alone, one would expect the pandemic to play a part in people’s reaction to the election.”

Dr. Leela R. Magavi, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, evaluates and treats individuals of all ages. She says she sees this firsthand in her patients.

“Some children and adults have lost their grandparents and loved ones due to COVID-19. Additionally, many adolescents are struggling with the loss of symbolic milestones and feel deeply saddened by the inability to walk for their graduation or attend prom,” Magavi told Healthline.

She believes that her patients have been directly impacted by the political climate and that many Americans will fare poorly with regard to emotional and physical health due to the 2020 election results.

“This week alone, I have evaluated children and adults who have expressed that they have been experiencing insomnia, irritability, appetite changes, and panic attacks due to anticipatory anxiety about the outcomes. I can only imagine what will occur if their preferred candidate is not elected,” Magavi said.

Her patients have expressed anxiety about the future of the country and believe the election process has caused their heart rate to increase and stress levels to elevate. Some of her adult patients have experienced anger, anxiety, and sadness due to the election and are binge eating and unable to fall asleep.

Inger Burnett-Zeigler, PhD, clinical psychologist and associate professor at Northwestern University, says healthcare, the economy, employment, immigration, and police violence are significant sources of stress that have the potential to negatively impact mental health this election cycle.

“These issues disproportionately impact racial/ethnic minorities, and people with lower income, who are already more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression and trauma. For some, if the election does not go their way, it can lead to feelings of hopelessness about the future,” Burnett-Zeigler told Healthline.

In addition to particular issues, feeling disappointment from a candidate losing may play a part in mental health, especially if people expected the candidate they support to win.

“Our study suggests that unexpected losses may drive mental health worsening because there is an incongruence between expectation and reality. In addition, studies from behavioral economics suggest that losses are felt more heavily than victories,” said Yan.

To deal with disappointment and stress related to your candidate losing the election, consider the following seven tips.

1. Stay connected

Communicating with those closest to you can help with navigating stress. If you feel like you can’t connect with friends and family about the election results, reach out to your doctor.

“Remember that your healthcare providers can be a valuable resource for support and referral to specialists who could help with election-related stress,” said Yan.

If you know someone struggling, reach out to them.

“Elections matter for health. Let’s recognize that and respond as a nation in a way that supports each other’s well-being and brings our communities closer,” Yan said.

2. Write down your thoughts

Putting your thoughts and emotions on paper can help express what you’re feeling when you’re struggling to do so verbally.

“Journaling about the situation and brainstorming solutions by drawing, using diagrams, or speaking to mentors and family members allows individuals to remain goal-directed when emotional,” said Magavi.

3. Pay attention to your body and mind

If you’re experiencing physical symptoms often associated with stress, such as headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, or sleeplessness, Magavi says you can break down your emotions into what’s experienced mentally versus physically.

“[This] helps children and adults identify when they are mad or sad when their emotions manifest as somatic symptoms, such as abdominal pain,” she said.

4. Embrace what’s in your control

While who becomes the president is out of your control, Magavi says creating a list of things in your control and techniques to live your life in a manner that aligns with your values and beliefs can help.

“Revisiting this list and partaking in mindfulness activities when rumination knocks at the door may alleviate individuals’ anxiety during this unpredictable and tumultuous year,” she said.

5. Limit news

News stations and social media will cover the winning candidate in abundance following the election.

“Resist the urge to obsessively watch the news or check social media. Designate specific times to check,” said Burnett-Zeigler.

She suggests balancing checking the news with other activities that help you to cope with stress, such as listening to podcasts, watching movies, reading, and exercising.

6. Parent with empathy

For parents of children aware of the 2020 election, knowing how to talk to them about the tension in the country can help reduce stress. Magavi suggests having open conversations with your children.

“[Explain] that open conversation is healthy, and this does not have to result in anyone changing their belief system or political affiliation. The most important thing is that conversations prioritize empathy and compassion,” said Magavi.

She recommends asking your kids open-ended questions and encouraging them to do the same with you.

“I have evaluated some families where the mother and father have opposing political beliefs, or parents and children have completely disparate political affiliation. It is of utmost importance to explain to children that they have the right to have their own beliefs and find their own voice as long as they are respecting others,” Magavi said.

7. Move on

If your candidate of choice loses, let yourself be disappointed for a brief amount of time and then move on.

“Try not to catastrophize or ruminate on bad outcomes,” said Burnett-Zeigler.

One way to do this is to remember that government has checks and balances and that presidents are only in office for a limited amount of time.

Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people. She writes with empathy and accuracy and has a knack for connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.

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