How to Keep Your “Election Stress Disorder” Under Control

By Seth Woods

2020 has been a very difficult year for a lot of reasons: a global pandemic that is on track to kill over a quarter million Americans, a global economic recession that caused half of all working Kentuckians to apply for unemployment benefits, protestors in small towns and big cities calling for racial and economic justice, last-minute additions to the Supreme Court, armed militias attempting to kidnap a sitting governor, the most active North Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history (for those who hadn’t noticed, we exhausted the list of names six weeks ago and are currently using Greek letters – Tropical Storm Eta making landfall late last night), the list literally goes on and on. Merriam-Webster added the words “doomscrolling” and “doomsurfing” to the dictionary to describe our nation’s seemingly perpetual negative news cycle. However, for many people this year (including most of us in the UK Election Law Society) the number one source of worry has been the 2020 election.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association last month, more than two thirds of U.S. adults say the presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life. That’s a significant jump from 2016, when 52% of Americans surveyed said the same thing. The survey also noted that over three-quarters of Americans say the future of our nation is in a significant source of stress for them, as is the current political climate. And now there’s a name for it: Election Stress Disorder.

According to psychiatrists at the Mayo Clinic, election stress disorder is not a scientific diagnosis, but a real concept nonetheless. It is based upon our natural impulse to get things under control--because there are so many variables in this election that we do not expect to be properly controlled, our body’s response is to become anxious and raise stress levels. While worrying is a normal part of life, worrying about things that are out of your control is not healthy.

So what can you do to reduce your election stress levels as the results start to roll in tonight? You can start by controlling the conditions around you, and mentally prepare for what’s coming up:

  1. Don’t expect a winner to be declared tonight. Most states will have some results to post tonight, but there will be a lot more ballots to count in the near future. Some states have started counting their early votes already, others haven’t. Expect the results to come in slow and steady over the next week or two.
  2. Focus on stress-reducing habits. Make a plan to tune out for however long you need to tonight, and take time to practice self-care. Check in on friends and family, listen to music, play games: these are all great options for a long election night. If you’re up for it, you can join our ELS Election Night Twitch/Discord where we’ll be doing all three at various points throughout the night.
  3. Limit the doomscrolling. There’s going to be a point in the evening where you’re going to realize that you’re no longer getting a personal benefit from staying up to see every piece of late-breaking news. 23 percent of precincts have reported in Nevada, but that’s all we know right now? Time to turn off the device and get some rest.
  4. Look for signs of hope. Sure, there have been a lot of bad things that have happened during this election – but there have been some amazing things that have happened as well! Despite the public health crises, we are on track for the highest voter turnout since women were given the right to vote. Kentucky has expanded its voter franchise to over 100,000 convicted felons who had served their debt and are ready to re-enter society, and they implemented a new early vote system that people on both sides of the aisle would like to make permanent.

It’s going to be a long night for both the professional election observers and the amateurs as well. Remember to keep calm and focused on what you can control, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable election night.