How To Deal With Political Anxiety In An Election Year

As the clock ticked over to January 1, 2024, we now find ourselves in the throws of yet another presidential election year. It’s hard to believe that almost four years have passed since we masked up and braved both COVID and crowds to participate in one of the greatest virtues of democracy. 

Despite the merit of this important civil duty, the last several years have, indeed, been a political firestorm of epic proportions – and 2024 is shaping up to be no different. Whether you’re politically inclined or not, it’s hard to escape the non-stop media coverage and the constant barrage of political discourse that surrounds a general election here in the United States, and for many, this atmosphere can wreak utter havoc on one’s mental health.

To help you maintain sanity while remaining politically engaged, we’ve prepared this handy guide for managing anxiety in the run-up to November, and beyond.

Read on to find out more! 

Limit Social Media Use And News Consumption

This first tip may sound like a no-brainer, but in reality, it can actually be quite difficult to achieve. 

In 2020, more than half of Americans reported feeling anxious, stressed, and experienced sleep loss due to news consumption. At the same time, this report also noted that one in 10 people still checked the news every hour, and more than 20% reported that they constantly monitored their social media feeds. The issue here being that involuntary news consumption via social platforms is almost inescapable in this day and age. So whether we think we’re proactively disengaging, the chances are, we’re very likely not.

So what can we do? Well, one of the easiest things to do is to switch off altogether. Setting aside hours of the day, or days in the week, to completely disconnect from social media and other passive digital channels is one way to give the mind a break from the endless chatter we are surrounded by online.

Can’t switch off? No problem. For many, our personal and professional lives revolve around social and other digital media use, and therefore, it can be difficult to disengage completely. But we can harness control over some of what we see on these platforms. Try unsubscribing from, or unfollowing, any superfluous accounts that add to the build-up of noise, and just stick to one or two of your most trusted sources.

Have a crazy uncle who won’t stop splashing his theories and opinions across social media? Hit the mute button. And remember – you should never feel guilt or shame for taking a step back to breathe.

Take Time To Focus On Other Things

When things get overwhelming, or you’re just looking to channel your energy elsewhere, try shifting your focus to other pursuits that feel purposeful and will keep you occupied, like study or travel. Perhaps you’ve been eyeing nurse practitioner programs in Texas, or maybe you’ve been meaning to take that trip to California wine country, or perhaps your resolution this year was simply to read more books. Whatever it is, this may just be the year to look inward and start channeling your frustrations with the outer world into something more meaningful, optimistic, and productive.

Wise Up

Have you ever taken a test or been asked a question you didn’t know the answer to? Have you ever felt frustrated or angry when you couldn’t respond accordingly? The good news is, you’re not alone. 

It should come as no surprise that one of the biggest causes of anxiety is uncertainty, so when we don’t have the answer to something or we can’t anticipate what lies ahead, it is common to have a stress response to those thoughts. While we could never possibly have the answers to everything, educating ourselves on some of the more immediate issues we’re facing may be enough to quell periods of stress and anxiety.

In an election cycle, there are a myriad of issues on the ballot that affect countless groups of people across the country. Making sense of these issues and arming ourselves with knowledge and perspectives from across the spectrum, empower us to make better decisions when voting, and help to contain some of the chaos around us.

Most importantly, however, be sure you are always seeking and consuming information from trusted, reputable sources, and that you’re avoiding echo chambers and filter bubbles that only serve to confirm your own pre-conceived beliefs and biases.

Reclaim Some Control

There is a learned helplessness that comes with government and democracy; an acceptance, of sorts, that we have no control over what our elected officials and institutions do, and therefore, our only option is to simply sit back and accept our fate. 

And while, yes, we cannot control every outcome, the reality is, we hold more power than we may think.

Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of grassroots activism affecting real change for real people, and in every election cycle, there are always opportunities to lend a voice or a hand in pursuit of a person or cause you believe in. 

So whether you’re bracing for the dreaded ‘October surprise’ or feeling powerless over some of the issues, taking decisive action can help to ease this paralysis. Have a candidate you like? Try door-knocking or phone banking on their behalf. Is there a cause or topic on the ballot that you feel passionately about? Try volunteering with a group or organization that represents the issue. 

While it’s not for everyone, being proactively involved rather than avoiding participation can become a very cathartic way to ease anxieties and help take back control of the narrative.

Call In The Professionals

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that sometimes the things we can’t control can become so overwhelming that it isn’t enough to just ride out the wave and hope for the best. If you’ve attempted any of the aforementioned strategies and you’re still feeling anxious and impaired, it may be time to call a mental health professional. Not only can these practitioners arm you with the tools and strategies you need to work through your anxieties, but they are an excellent, neutral sounding board for you to express your thoughts and frustrations. And sometimes, when the battle cries get louder and the fighting gets dirtier, neutrality is just what we need.

My Candidate Lost – Now What?

In any race, there is inevitably someone who comes out on top, and therefore, always those who fall short. So what do we do when our party or candidate does not come out victorious?

It is natural to react emotionally to an election loss – particularly if you have been deeply invested in the outcome. That said, the important thing to remember is to try and stay calm. 

The results won’t magically change overnight – no matter how desperately we may wish them to – but to keep our minds in check and our bodies balanced, we must accept the outcome, learn what we can from it, and take comfort in the fact that we can always try again the next time.

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