It’s constantly being reported on the 24-hour news cycle. It’s all over social media. Every newspaper and magazine is covering it. Opinions are strong and tensions are high.
Every presidential election cycle is contentious; however, 2020 seems to be particularly hot-blooded for many people. There is a lot on the line regardless of what party you align with.
Americans are facing extra burdens this election year with the added stress of Covid-19, including learning to navigate alternative work and school environments, as well as social and economic impacts while keeping health and safety a priority.
So what does this mean for our mental health?
During the 2016 Presidential Election, the American Psychological Association conducted a study that indicated 52 percent of American adults reported the election was “a very or somewhat significant source of stress.” 1
In 2020, we can guess that the number is either the same or higher, given the current circumstances our country is facing. Differing opinions with friends and family members can cause rifts in relationships during this period of increased social isolation. We have already seen an increase in suicide rates during the pandemic2
5 Ways to Maintaining Your Mental Health During the Election:
1. Turn off the News
While it is important to stay informed, it is also important to protect your inner peace. We now live in a 24-hour new cycle, which means media consumption is available all day, every day. Watching a constant stream of negative news reporting can increase your stress levels, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression3. As the saying goes, “No news is good news.”
Moderation is key. Reduce your media consumption to a specific time per day for a reduced period of time. This will allow you to stay informed, yet not be constantly exposed to negative information throughout your day.
2. Take a Social Media Break
Election years bring about strong emotions to the issues we are most passionate about. It is easy to scroll through social media and see a variety of opinions we may or may not agree with. The urge to be a keyboard warrior can be strong. People often say things they would never say in person and arguments can get downright nasty.
Even if you aren’t engaging in these exchanges, social media can have a negative impact on feelings of depression and loneliness4. A social media break may be something to consider if you find yourself using these platforms frequently and are struggling with negative consequences. If you don’t want to permanently delete your accounts, simple solutions such as deleting the apps from your smart phone and/or temporarily deactivating your accounts will help reduce your social media consumption.
To read more about social media and mental health, check out our blog, Is Social Media Bad For Your Mental Health
3. Exercise to help reduce stress.
Most of us know that regular exercise is key to maintaining good physical health. Additionally, there are a variety of benefits exercise has when it comes to mental health and stress relief including:
- Reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood while improving self-esteem and cognitive function5.
- Giving you a rush of endorphins (think of the so-called “runner’s high”) and stimulating the release of neurotransmitters that are essential for mood regulation6.
- Natural release of all the “Good Feels” like Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, the brain chemicals that make us feel good and help regulate our moods.
Engaging in intense exercise such as Crossfit or running a marathon is unnecessary to gain these benefits (although feel free if you want to!). Just thirty minutes of moderate exercise 3 days per week has shown to improve mental health functioning.
4. Moderate classic comfort foods and eat healthy. Here’s why.
Just as in the case with exercise, your nutrition can have a huge impact on your mental health and wellbeing. During times of high stress, it is natural to gravitate towards comfort foods, which are usually high in carbohydrates, fat, and sugar. These foods provide a surge in serotonin and dopamine, creating a temporary boost in mood. Unfortunately, many of these foods cause large spikes in blood sugar levels and are unhealthy, which in the long term are associated with health problems such as obesity and diabetes, as well as depression7.
Eating a balanced diet fully of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates will not only help you feel physically better, evidence suggests a balanced diet supports your mental health as well8.
5. Know when to end the discussion
Find yourself constantly debating with friends and family members about politics? Is it impacting your relationships? Are you overwhelmed with emotion when political topics come up? Maybe it’s time to end the discussion- for now. Just because we are passionate about a political issue does not mean we can change someone’s mind when it comes to their opinion. We all come from different backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, experiences, etc. that contribute to forming our pollical belief systems. While discussions are imperative to gain understanding and empathy for our fellow humans, if we are not in a space mentally to be able to hear them, an argument can do more harm than good for everyone involved. So if you find yourself in that space, walk away for now and return when you are mentally and emotionally prepared to have the discussion without negative consequences to your mental health. For more on how to navigate hard conversations, check out this Therapists Uncut Episode Things to Consider When Navigating a Difficult Conversation.
These are some steps you can take to proactively take to nurture your mental health while stepping away from activities that could be getting you down. If you are finding that your mental health has been declining, know that there is no shame in reaching out for professional help. Talking to a mental health professional can help you cope during these tough times. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
Author: Emily Flosi
Small Town Counseling CA, Inc
Mental Health Clinician
Emily is a mental health provider at Small Town Counseling CA, Inc (STCCA), a group private practice that promotes mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training. Emily also provides coaching and consulting to groups and organizations on mental health in the workplace and is an active field instructor for Master of Social Work (MSW) students in Human Services Agencies.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Need help finding a provider? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
Lookinf for a good podcast to help maintain your mental health? Check out Therapists Uncut where a group of -off-the-clock therapists make mental health relatable.