Counseling Professor Offers Helpful Tips to Reduce Anxiety, Especially during Election Season

Thursday, October 15, 2020
Election Anxiety
This year’s presidential election is unlike any other in history and it’s taking a toll on the mental health of people across the country. Feelings of stress are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, fears of long polling lines and contracting the virus.  
“If you think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy, many people are at the bottom,” says Donya Wallace, Ph.D., a visiting assistant professor in the Master’s in Counseling program at Palo Alto University. “Due to massive job loss, unprecedented evictions and economic constraints brought about by the pandemic, many find themselves without those basic requirements that help create a sense of physical safety. And so without these crucial needs being satisfied, there may be emotional distress that makes engagement in the election process uniquely challenging this voting cycle.”  
And there are other discomforting issues – racial inequality, climate change, policing, and gender in-equality. The list goes on, affecting people in a variety of ways.

“Experiences of anxiety can be quite different from one person to the next,” says Wallace. “For some it may be more of a somatic experience, with physical discomfort like muscle tension, or headaches. For others, it may manifest as sleep disturbance, loss of appetite or difficulties concentrating. Others experience a sense of dread and despair, sadness and depression.”  

“This is truly uncharted territory,” says Wallace, explaining that these are very real experiences that some might chalk off to imagination. “The brain, body, the entire system – all are trying to adjust to a lack of normalcy.” 
She further points out that some may find their old ways of coping are no longer effective. “Many people rely upon the support of family and friends during difficult times. The pandemic has impacted our ability to connect through personal contact so we have become more reliant upon social platforms.” And while these spaces have been helpful in keeping us connected, they have also exposed us to one another's political views which, as Wallace points out, has the potential to create ruptures in those relationships as the political race has become more contentious.
For those feeling anxious, Wallace offers some helpful tips, whether you are concerned about voting or a friendship that is turning contentious. Self-care, she says, is critically important.  
“We are constantly exposing ourselves to chaos and, over time, getting accustomed to a higher state of arousal. There are so many compounding factors, so it’s important to listen to and recognize what your body is telling you. It has a way of telling us we need more time to ourselves. Signs can be irritability, feeling sad, and lack of eating. For peace of mind and well-being, she strongly encourages taking a break from television and social media


  • Set limits on your use of social media and consider disconnecting from platforms that cause distress
  • Turn the television off. 
  • Take time each day to engage in those activities that bring about a sense of calm and peace such as walking, exercise or yoga. Read a good book or plan a movie night at home.


To alleviate fears of standing in long polling lines during the pandemic or other concerns about voting on November 3, consider these simple suggestions:
  • Plan ahead. Verify your registration, polling location and requirements. Review the ballot prior to heading to the polls. If voting by mail, follow all of the instructions and requirements to make sure your vote gets counted.
  • Vote early if possible. Early and/or absentee voting has started in most states and allows citizens to cast votes before Election Day. Check your local polling station for when and where voting is permitted in your state.
  • Use the buddy system. Voting with friends and/or family members not only provides company while standing in line, but also offers a sense of comfort to those who may experience concerns about their physical safety in some settings. 
  • Anticipate long lines and wait times. Pack a lunch and bring along a chair in case lines are long.

Personal Relationships

To safeguard relationships consider:
  • Set boundaries around political discussions. If conversations become uncomfortable, feel free to walk away and take a time-out.
  • Agree to disagree. Respect the right of others to hold different opinions and avoid attempts to persuade those who strongly hold on to a particular view.
  • Focus on those aspects of the relationship in which there is a shared interest. Consider creating a list of safe topics with family and friends.
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