On Tuesday night, many will gather around TVs, computers and smartphones to watch election results. It will be the end of a long campaign season that saw tempers fly and stress levels rise.
A study released on Oct. 30 by the American Psychological Association reports that 62 percent of Americans said the current state of politics in the country is a significant stress. The same report also stated that 69 percent of the nation said the future of the country stresses them out, up from 63 percent a year ago.
In anxious times - like watching the election results come in - there are steps to take to keep you from seeing red or feeling too blue.
Sanford psychologist Dr. Jon Ulven says people are designed to experience and withstand stressful periods throughout their lives, and elections are no different.
Some will show signs of stress through a change in sleeping routine, loss of appetite, change in mood, irritability, increased worrying, or an upset gastrointestinal system.
“It’s not a sign of failure that we experience these symptoms,” he says. “For the most part, we will all make it through this stressful period of time.”
While the election results may have lasting impact, remember that terms have limits, says North Dakota State University Counseling Center Director psychologist Bill Burns.
“This too shall pass. It all goes around and comes around. Whoever you want to win, this will change over time. It’s not permanent," Burns says.
In times of duress, people who have optimistic outlooks tend to fare better, Ulven says. Acknowledging that things may currently be overwhelming but will pass is helpful.
“When folks are able to have healthier attributions or connections to those stressors, that helps us weather those times better,” Ulven says.
Something like early voting can help people feel like they are maintaining their lives.
“I went and early voted and one of the best things about early voting is that I don’t feel like I need to watch anything any more. I can be done. And that really helps,” Ulven says. “Things we do to increase our perception of control can be really helpful at these times. Getting out to vote is something I can do that increases my perception of control. At least I’m doing something.”
Perception of control can be a powerful tool in managing stress as uncertainty can lead to greater unease, he says.
That control can extend outside of political situations and could include volunteering at an organization or lending a hand where needed.
“Helping out a friend or a neighbor, showing kindness to others will help with stress management,” Ulven says.
If you are already uneasy about the state of politics, constant media bombardment can be too much.
“The 24-hour news channels, alerts on social media - all of those things are constant reminders of stress for us,” Ulven says.
He encourages his patients who are getting stressed out by the elections to decide in advance about how they will get their news, especially if it’s through the unending stream of social media.
Ulven also urges people to make healthy decisions, from who they spend time with election night - friends, family and supportive people - to what you eat and drink.
“We hate feeling stressed as human beings,” he says. “We’re wired to respond strongly to signs of anxiety, and we want them to go away. We want to avoid those symptoms the best we can so sometimes what that leads to under stressful circumstances is using too much alcohol or other substances like marijuana.”
Instead, do things that bring you pleasure, like taking a walk, exercising or work on a craft project.
Both Ulven and Burns say to be with people you like and with whom you get along.
"Be with like-minded people who see things the same way you do so you’ll have support whichever way things go," Burns says.
People should also be on the lookout for stressed friends and family. Look for changes in how they function, like becoming withdrawn socially or ineffective in the workplace, or allowing loss of sleep to affect timeliness and appearance.