How to cope while the votes are being counted (and recounted).

By Claire Gillespie
November 04, 2020
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If you thought your intense election stress would finally subside after nationwide polls closed yesterday, you were wrong. Now, as votes continue to be counted, more red and blue states emerge on the map, and no official winner has been announced, the US is collectively as stressed out as ever.

Of course, everybody experiences stress differently. Yet there seems to be some common reactions, based on what a lot of people are expressing on social media and IRL. Here are seven ways voters are still dealing with their 2020 presidential election stress, and the coping strategies experts advise as we wait for the race to be officially called.

You're feeling unhinged

If you were expecting to know the results of the election right away, you might have this reaction, Illinois-based licensed psychologist Jessica Myszak, PhD, tells Health. "It's difficult to sit with uncertainty, especially if you feel strongly about the election and many of the pressing political issues this year," she says. "Nervousness, uncertainty, fear, and anxiety are all perfectly natural emotions to be experiencing right now."

Myszak suggests easing this stress by taking some deep breaths, going for a walk, or spending some time with a pet, who doesn't care about the election and instead wants some uninterrupted one-on-one time with you.

You've turned into a zombie

Many people stayed up until the early hours of the morning to watch the voting results come in, then went to bed without any clear resolution as to who won the race. So feeling zombie-like the next day is to be expected. "If you haven't slept well the night before, you'll be naturally distracted," Washington-based licensed clinical psychologist Melanie English, PhD, tells Health.

Our regular activities with family and friends fall within what's known as our "micro-system," English explains. "These are things we can and do manage. However, an election day falls within our macro-system, which encompasses larger cultural and legal items we can't easily control." With this in mind, focus on what you can control today—you have a life to live, work to do, and a family who needs you. But it's OK to feel distracted.

You can't stop staring at your laptop with your eyes red and hands shaking

It can be tempting to focus on keeping up with the latest election results and worry that you are going to miss something. But if your eyes are bloodshot and your body is shaking, it's time to step away from the screen, Myszak says. This could be a sign of anxiety, anger, or not meeting your physical needs.

To let off some steam, English suggests talking with a friend or going for a walk outside. "Don't forget that your children are watching you react—show them how you handle stress, disappointment, and uncertainty by being aware of your feelings and having an outlet," she advises.

You feel nauseous 

Stress and worry can often present as physical symptoms, like an upset stomach or headache, Myszak says. She suggests distracting yourself by spending time outdoors, checking in with a friend (but avoid turning it into a gripe/worry session, so go with a friend who isn't as invested in politics as you are), or trying meditation. Lots of meditation apps are just waiting to be downloaded; now is a good time to give them a tryout.

You're obsessively doomscrolling

Again, this isn't unusual—election news is constantly being updated, and it's too easy to get lost in a social media rabbit hole. But obsessive behavior is a clear sign that it's time to take a break from all forms of media, Illinois-based licensed clinical psychologist Catherine Jackson, PhD, tells Health. "Instead, focus on engaging in self-care or doing things that bring you joy while you await the final results," she suggests.

Doomscolling might be related to something called "confirmation bias," English adds. If we're expecting a negative election outcome, or we view the event as having high drama or conflict, we will doomscroll to find information that supports that belief. "It's hard to break this cycle because there is so much information out there—it'll keep coming, and the more articles we find that support our view, the more we are inclined to keep that view," she says.

You have a deep need to bake something

When you can't control what's happening around you, you look to control what you can, Jackson says. "The need to bake may arise as a way to initiate some feel-good emotions and release anxiousness in a productive, fun way in times of uncertainty. It keeps your mind busy so it doesn't have the opportunity to stress out. Baking is a healthier way to deal with all that is going on because when you are completely engrossed in it, it becomes a mindful activity—and mindfulness in any form has a wealth of brain benefits." So go ahead, break out the pans and rolling pin and make something delicious.

You're spending all your time in the kitchen snacking

When people are stressed or unsettled, they often reach out for comfort foods to help fill the void, Myszak says. While some of this is probably okay, if you go overboard or have health concerns that are not compatible with extra snacking, it might make you feel worse. Instead, do something else good for your body—meditation, exercise, or finally tackling a chore that requires physical activity, like raking leaves.

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