AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — Are you feeling particularly stressed out about the presidential election?
Chances are, your answer is yes.
More than two-thirds of Americans report the election is a significant source of stress in their life.
Tom Miller talked with Austin-based Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center Regional Clinical Director Dr. Allison Chase about what people are doing to make their anxiety worse, and what helps.
Tom: I want to admit, I’m among the people who have election anxiety. This piqued my interest. Why do so many people feel this way?
Dr. Chase: If you think about the current culture and climate, anxiety is so elevated for everybody right now. We’ve got a pandemic going on, we’ve got some economic unrest unsettling for some, we’ve got parents that are serving not only multiple roles, they’re teachers as well. There are a number of sort of underlying pieces I think increasing everything, and then we have this election.
Tom: There’s a new study that found that 68% of adults are feeling this election anxiety, which is up from 52% the previous presidential election. Why do you think there’s been such an uptick?
Dr. Chase: There is this surge of news and information that’s constantly coming at us and I think it’s sometimes hard to navigate what’s accurate, what’s not accurate the whole big picture, and we have it at our fingertips now. You don’t have to wait until 6 o’clock for the news to come on, or wait for the morning for the newspaper to show up. These days it is everywhere. I just think that influx of information is sometimes just too much for us to handle.
Tom: What are some behaviors that people have that are making this worse?
Dr. Chase: Anytime we catastrophize, we tend to worry about what the future holds in a way that leads us down a path of getting really caught up in very fear-based thoughts and behaviors, it’s going to be a problem. Anxiety is really a physiological response as much as there are emotions and thoughts, cognitions that go with it as well. Whenever you start to move toward that fear-based thinking, you’re going to set yourself up physiologically as well, and that is a big concern.
Tom: Do you think that the constant access to social media and 24/7 news makes things worse?
Dr. Chase: I do. I think news is necessary, and the information is imperative for us to have. What happens is it becomes very hard sometimes to turn it off. As one keeps either seeking for something to find either confirmation for what they’re thinking, or maybe to find evidence to counter what they’re thinking, and it takes us down this what I would call kind of this rabbit hole phenomenon. That is problematic, and it’s hard to turn off.
Tom: What behaviors or practices can people engage in to help alleviate some of the stress they’re feeling?
Dr. Chase: It is really imperative to try to put a time limit or containment on how much news you take in. Whether you have to set a timer for yourself, whether you have to have somebody be your accountability buddy to turn it off, something needs to happen so that you don’t end up getting too caught up in the cycle. It’s really important to try to stay as present as one can, and again that’s where we hear so much about mindfulness, and the use of strategies in which to keep our bodies physiologically more relaxed and contained. If these symptoms of anxiety that one is feeling and experiencing seem to be interfering in one’s life, like they’re having trouble with their sleep patterns or eating patterns, or really withdrawing or having conflict with peers in a way that’s creating problems, you really should think about seeking professional help.