6 Ways To Manage Post-Election Stress, From An Integrative MD
Elections have always seemed like a complicated dance between our greatest hope for the future and our deepest fear of losing control over our lives, our livelihood, and our freedom. We look for candidates who not only align with our core values but who also assure us that we'll be OK at the end of the day.
The turmoil and chaos of 2020 seemed to reach into the very core of our beings and shake loose many of the deeply rooted fears we have been navigating, gingerly and cautiously, for so long. From the pandemic to cultural unrest and financial uncertainty being replayed over and over again, we are left asking ourselves: Are we safe, and will we be OK?
On top of all that, we're facing one of the most contentious elections in recent history.
Let's talk about election stress.
According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 68% of Americans say that this election is a significant source of stress, compared to 52% of Americans in 2016. This applies across party lines, with 76% of Democrats, 67% of Republicans, and 64% of Independents reporting elevated stress levels.
The point is clear: The majority of Americans are feeling the weight of this election. Based on a recent study, reported in PNAS, there was a 1.6% increase in the rate of heart attack and strokes in the two days following the 2016 election. And with the already heightened stress levels of 2020, it raises the question: What might happen if we don't start implementing strategies to manage our physical and emotional well-being during this time?
Tips to help manage post-election stress:
1. Have a plan for the day after.
Do not immerse yourself in the inevitable borage of media analysis that is guaranteed to follow Election Day. We may find ourselves inexplicably drawn to the rehashing of events, as our brains struggle to process and make sense of it all.
The truth is, marinating in negativity very seldom provides new information. More likely, it will elevate our stress levels and leave us feeling depleted. Remind yourself that these are opinions, interpretations, and predictions, not certainties of the future.
2. Take a break.
A real break, meaning no social media, print media, visual media, radio, or podcasts—you get the gist. A 2018 study concluded that Americans consumed 11 hours of media per day, and I imagine that number has risen since then. You already know what's going to be talked about in the news following the election, instead of listening, allow your mind and body to recover and process what has happened—no matter how you feel about the outcome.
3. Be mindful of your news consumption.
When you get back to the news, decide how much, where, and when to get your information. Consider starting your day with something other than the news. Take some time to center yourself and set the tone for the day. Don't end your day with the news, either, as this could contribute to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Finally, set a timer.
4. Lean into your social network.
It has been a year of isolation for many. Isolation increases feelings and symptoms of anxiety and stress. A strong social network can help us to navigate through stressful times and, based on the recent data, post-election stress certainly seems to qualify.
Reaching out to friends, family, and your community can not only help you to process your emotions but is also an excellent source of support.
5. Eat nutrient-dense meals.
Eating foods packed with nutrients may help offset some of the negative effects of stress. Foods such as kale, spinach, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts provide vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, and antioxidants. All of these vitamins and minerals can help mitigate some of the effects of stress, such as muscle tension, and feelings of anxiety, all while keeping our immune systems strong.
Essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins are all part of keeping our bodies and brains working at their peak.
Exercise is one of the all-time best ways to manage stress. It increases endorphins, reduces inflammation, improves brain health, cardiovascular health, and definitely mood. Of course, get the OK from your physician before starting an exercise program.
Other modalities to consider are meditation, breathing exercises, nature breaks, and music. All of these things have been shown to be impactful in lowering stress levels.
Stress takes a physical and emotional toll on our bodies. All of these tips underscore the importance of developing lifestyle habits to support our health and not contribute to our risk factors. When we have time to breathe and gather our strength, it is important to realize that progress can be made despite setbacks. Focus on all the progress we have made with persistence in the face of adversity. If it all becomes too overwhelming, seek professional help and guidance.
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