SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The mid-term election cycle is well underway, and while citizens see elections and voting as a right they must exercise for many campaign ads, mud-slinging and the responsibility of casting a vote can be a source of anxiety.
Rugged Counseling Founder Trey Tucker says data shows that about 70% of voters say they feel increased anxiety during elections.
“So you can look at it two different ways. You can look at the anxiety and the stress of an election as a negative thing and something that you got to just immediately try to just get rid of or ignore. However, that’s probably gonna make it worse,” Tucker said.
Tucker said he advises people to use stress that causes election anxiety to help them find a deeper meaning.
“Research backs it up that if we’re pursuing meaning and pursuing purpose in our lives, we’re gonna feel happier,” Tucker said. “You know, a lot of times we’re just chasing happiness for the short term or freedom from stress or anxiety, but if we start pursuing meaning and purpose, it really helps us out.”
Election anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. It can indicate that a person is deeply connected to the issues and should try to find ways to get involved with issues that matter.
“That’s the thing is we need more passion and more care and then I think if we channel that in the right way, then it really can be healthy for the individual and it can build up the whole community at large.”
Another reason that Tucker believes so many people experience election anxiety is that we see how little control we have.
“One of the most frustrating things about an election is it really does highlight the fact that I have one vote and I don’t know how much difference that’s gonna make,” Tucker said. “So therefore how much control do I really have over this thing that I do care about so deeply.”
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the innumerable things you cannot control, Tucker suggests making a plan for the manageable or “bite-sized” responsibilities to remind yourself that you are doing your part.
“You can volunteer. You could donate to the candidate or the cause, and then if you zoom out toward other things. You can control how much time you spend face-to-face with people you care about.”
Tucker also suggests controlling the amount of time spent in front of the tv, and phone screens watching and engaging in the very thing that is causing stress and anxiety.
“But really at the end of the day, it makes no impact whatsoever because somehow we think our words are gonna be the words that somehow changes someone’s mind but it really just leaves us more frustrated. Because our efforts seem futile, and we just keep getting this barrage of either negative news or news that makes us even more uncertain about what’s gonna happen,” Tucker said. “So yeah, social media has plenty of positives but trying to keep up with elections through social media is not one of them.”
Tucker made it clear that he is not saying avoid the news or stop paying attention.
“Politics news in the local setting really do affect you more than what’s happening on that broad scale national level. So move from national to local and in general, try to dial back the total amount of screen consumption in general.”
Individual emotions can get heightened when they deeply support a particular candidate and believe that candidate is the person who can make everything right. Tucker said the psychological term for this is referred to as “impact bias.”
Impact bias is the tendency for people to overestimate the length or intensity of future feeling states. Oftentimes voters believe that a candidate’s wins or losses will have a devastating effect on the community or country as a whole.
“But really, if you look historically, one election loss or one politician’s loss hasn’t made as big of a negative impact on their supporters as they thought. The same thing with a win for a politician. We think, ok, if the person I’m supporting is gonna win, then everything’s going to be solved, and my life is gonna be great.”
Remembering that one election’s impact will not bring about the world’s end is another great way to manage expectations.
The election is over, but I still feel anxious
Tucker suggests acknowledging that you live with election anxiety rather than ignoring it. That way, you can take the time between elections to learn ways to manage it.
“So if we lean into that anxiety and really try to treat it and give it what it’s trying to tell us that we need, it starts to come down. So absolutely treat it, and then, you know, if anxiety starts to interfere with other parts of your life and it makes it really hard to do your job well or be with your family in effective ways, then maybe it’s time to start looking for some professional help.”
Practicing self-care and sharing feelings with friends and family are simple ways to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety. However, if your feelings interfere with work, family, and day-to-day functioning, Tucker suggests seeking professional help.
“If it’s making it harder to normally function, then it’s time to start looking into a professional licensed therapist and what does it feel like?”
Indicators of heightened anxiety are often physical. Tucker says people should pay close attention to the physical signs of emotional distress.
- chest pain, tightness, tingling, and difficulty breathing
- tingling of the scalp
- sweaty hands
- trembling arms, legs
- queasy stomach
Tucker said those symptoms are uncomfortable on purpose because they’re trying to get your attention.
“So if you lean into those physical symptoms and let them do their thing for 60 seconds or so, you’ll notice they probably start to calm down because they realize that you are paying attention to them and that’s what they were trying to get in the first place.”
Post-election family gatherings: The stress, the drama
After all the votes are counted, and we know which politician will occupy which office, it is time to gather with family and celebrate. For some families with high political passions and differences, it may be a little difficult to pretend the election never happened. Tucker suggests acknowledging the tension so that everyone can enjoy family time.
“Break right through that awkwardness and just come out and say to whoever it is you might have a disagreement with, say, hey, look, I know we don’t agree on this particular topic in politics. So let’s just agree to put that off to the side and let’s enjoy each other. Let’s have some quality time, let’s talk about any other topic, and really just have some quality time where we enjoy the relationship because ultimately, what we’re looking for is a connection between us and that person.”