Are you suffering from election stress disorder? It seems like everyone I know has it. Last week my kindergartner woke up at 5 a.m. with nightmares about "two people running for president." One friend wrote on Facebook that she is barely sleeping at all and now fills the pre-dawn hours canning fruit. I've heard reports of chest pains and short-term Xanax prescriptions within my circle as Nov. 8 draws near.
Election stress disorder may not be well known, but it's definitely real, and its impact should not be dismissed, said Dr. Asim Shah, vice chair for community psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Symptoms of this once-every-four-years disorder include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sweaty palms, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and a sinking or doomed feeling, he said.
The cause? Intense concern about the outcome of the presidential election.
If you are among the victims of this disorder, know that you are not alone.
The American Psychological Assn. reports that the election is the source of a significant amount of stress for more than half of all Americans and is prevalent in both parties.
Of 3,500 adults surveyed in August, APA researchers found that 55% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans said the election is a "very significant" or "somewhat significant" source of stress.
Voters who use social media are more likely than those who don't to say the election is a source of stress (54% vs. 45%, respectively).
Some may feel they have no choice but to remain in a state of all-out panic until the votes have been counted (just a few more days!).
However, for those who want tips on how to manage their stress between now and Tuesday night, Shah offers the following advice:
1. Turn off the TV news.
Consider reading your news rather than watching it on TV.
"Paper media is very different than television media," Shah said. "It doesn't give you the same immediate emotional experience."
People who are feeling anxious about the election don't need to go on a total TV news blackout, however. Listen to the headlines at the beginning or end of the day and then turn the channel to something less stressful, like Animal Planet or the Food Network.
2. Write down your worst fears, then address them.
What exactly are you worried will happen if your candidate loses? What are your worst fears?
If you write them down on a piece of paper, you can address them one by one. Fact check. Think about what is actually possible. Hopefully, this exercise will help you realize that at least some of your fears are unfounded, Shah said.
3. Remember that very little will change overnight.
Try to remind yourself that in the days and week after Nov. 8, there will be very little immediate change for your family.
The new president will not take office until January and Shah notes that even then, few politicians are able to carry out most of their campaign promises due to gridlock in Washington, D.C.
"You have to be realistic," he said. "There is no need to be stressed about something that likely won't happen."
4. If you must, ask your doctor for medication.
Prescription medication could be effective for people who feel that election stress syndrome has been interfering with their ability to carry out activities in their daily lives. If your functioning is seriously impaired for example, if you can't sleep, have trouble leaving the house, or can't concentrate at work -- talk to your doctor to see if medication is right for you.
5. If your candidate wins, take it easy on election night.
No matter what happens on election night, close to half of all voters are going to be very disappointed. If your candidate wins, try to keep your emotions under control instead of celebrating loudly in front of people who may have voted a different way.
"It's OK to be happy, but you don't want to create an incident," Shah said.
6. Think of the kids.
This piece of advice is less about stress and more about good citizenship. Keep in mind that kids pick up on everything we say.
"We can't say all Democrats or all Republicans are bad," Shah said. "Blanket statements don't work."
Just like we need to be careful about belittling an entire religion or ethnic group, we also need to be careful about passing judgment on the entirety of the opposing party in front of our kids, he said.
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