How This MD Takes An Ayurvedic Approach To Election Stress Disorder
It's been nearly eight months since my "empty nest" became full again.
With the global COVID-19 pandemic came the return of my two children from college, as well as increased stress and anxiety. And while we've all been managing the challenges of working and studying together under one roof, the added stress from the upcoming U.S. election has disrupted the delicate balance we were somehow maintaining as a family.
I'm feeling that the emotions in my home are at an all-time high...and I don't think I'm alone here. I would definitely say that every member of my family, including me, is experiencing "election stress disorder."
What is election stress disorder?
This term was first coined during the 2016 election cycle by therapist Steven Stosny, Ph.D. Not meant to be an official medical diagnosis, he used it to describe the increasing numbers of patients he saw with "overwhelming anxiety" about the results of the election.
Fast-forward four years, and it feels these feelings of worry have only multiplied across the entire political divide. According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, 68% of American adults say the 2020 U.S. presidential election is a significant source of stress in their lives (compared to 52% who said the same before the 2016 election).
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While feeling stress about the election is totally normal, there are things we can do to keep it from harming our mental health. Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old healing science of India, the birthplace of my parents and many generations before them, provides timeless ideas about how to cope with emotional feelings such as sadness, fear, worry, and anxiety.
Here are my top five suggestions, based on Ayurvedic principles and more than 20 years of being a physician, to help people cope with the main symptoms of "election stress disorder":
1. Manage your media diet.
A common manifestation of election-related stress is the fear of missing the "latest" news, which is causing many of us to constantly refresh social media or check phone alerts every few minutes. We quite literally "carry" the news with us 24 hours a day with round-the-clock coverage streaming through our computers and phones.
It's important to consider the amount of media you're "consuming" on a daily basis and the effect it's having on your mental, emotional, and physical health.
2. Establish routines.
Routines create stability, and stability creates a sense of safety and security. When we know what to expect, we can relax and better regulate our emotions. Establishing an evening routine that starts with a "tech timeout," when all electronics are turned off, creates a boundary on media consumption and a reminder that relaxing at the end of the day is important.
3. Stay connected—with boundaries.
Many people are worried about being with others, especially friends and family, who may have differing political views. Add the factor of needing to socially distance to help control the spread of COVID-19, and many of us are feeling intense anxiety about being with other people...while also feeling intense loneliness and isolation.
Establishing boundaries around political discussions before engaging with loved ones can help you stay connected without worrying whether conversations will become heated.
4. Prioritize sleep.
Many people are having difficulty falling asleep because they're worried about the outcome of the election. And sleep deprivation leads to emotional volatility. Studies also show that people who have inadequate sleep are more likely to develop anxiety disorders in the future.
When we are well rested, we can better regulate our emotions and show up more authentically in our interactions with others. Create a routine of getting ready for bed, and be clear about what time "lights out" is.
The breath is where the body and the mind meet. Observe any person who is feeling anxious and you'll likely see them breathing fast or holding their breath entirely. By learning how to slow down the breath by making the exhale longer, you can tap into a powerful tool that can be used anytime and anywhere to calm anxiety.
If you're thinking this is a lot to think about, you're right. The goal isn't to do everything all at once. Instead, choose one suggestion to try first and see how it makes you feel. Make adjustments as necessary, or add another suggestion and observe again. You'll find that over time, you start establishing daily practices based on the wisdom of Ayurveda that will help you calm your anxiety and manage stress—tools you'll continue to use long after the election is over.