Vote for Your Mental Health

by Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D., Director of Behavioral Health at Healthcare Network

Polls and studies in the past several years have noted that many people are feeling stressed and anxious due to social discord, wars, economic uncertainty and environmental threats.

While some individuals hope that upcoming elections may bring resolution, others may experience heightened mental unrest due to the election process.

In 2016, the American Psychological Association found that 52% of Americans surveyed said the election was a significant source of stress in their lives. In 2020, that number had risen to 68%. Some are predicting that this year’s election could raise these numbers even higher.

One reason could be that a Harvard poll found that people 43 years old and younger rank “the state of the country/world” as a top factor associated with their happiness. Another reason could be increased polarization, toxicity and negativity. Knowing that we only have one vote, in addition to diminishing trust in political leaders and systems, can contribute to feeling little to no control over outcomes we feel are unsettling.

One thing is certain- constant media coverage, debate and concern over how the result of the election will impact our live sand society can all impact our wellbeing. This feeling was given a name by Steven Stosny, a Maryland therapist who defined “election stress disorder” as stress and anxiety triggered by election news that spills into work, social and family life.

He noted that voters in recent elections may have felt personally attacked for their choice of candidates because personalized messages, news alerts and social algorithms ramped up biases, fear and anger.

Signs you may be suffering from “election stress disorder” include obsessing over the election, body tension, irritability, sleep disruption, relationship difficulties and physical symptoms like headaches and fatigue.

As the election news coverage increases, you can do things to protect your mental health.

Avoid continuous exposure to political news. Limit your consumption, look for balanced news sources, and avoid shows, politicians and commentators who seem to increase your anxiety.

Take time for yourself, spend time with friends and family and do things you enjoy. It’s beneficial to be with people who share your values and are mutually respectful.

As protection against any stress and anxiety, including the political variety, make sure you are getting enough sleep and exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Avoid political arguments and practice respect, compassion and tolerance. No matter the outcome of the election, we all are in thistogether.

Concentrate on things you can control. Do something positive to make the world a better place. It’s a way to accomplish something and regain control, while connecting you to hope and optimism. Instead of worrying about possible negative outcomes in advance of the election, be intentional about allowing for uncertainty.

Open your mind to accept anything you don’t directly control. Certainty seeking behaviors only feed worry and anxiety. Assess the things that really matter in your life.

Embrace voting as your fundamental right. Even if you wonder about your ability to make a difference, voting is an active behavior that fulfills your civic duty. It also represents the conclusion of another election cycle and a shift away from politics.

Anxiety is part of being human and sometimes can be helpful. However, when it becomes persistent and overwhelming, it can negatively impact your relationships at work, home or school.

If you find the stress and anxiety of the upcoming election leaves you feeling significantly hopeless and depressed for more than two weeks, seek support from a mental health professional. Long-term stress and anxiety, no matter what the cause, has the potential to degrade your physical health, relationships, and overall quality oflife.

About the Author

Courtney L. Whitt, Ph.D., is the Director of Behavioral Health at Healthcare Network. She leads the organization’s integrated behavioral and mental health model, designed to treat the whole person. This approach recognizes the relationship between physical and mental health, fostering seamless collaboration between mental health staff and primary care doctors. For an appointment, call 239-658-3000 or visit

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