Do you have election anxiety? Here's what the experts say you should do

Do you have election anxiety? Here's what the experts say you should do


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SALT LAKE CITY — Sophia Lundy describes the presidential election as trying to grasp a rope in choppy waters — and none of the ropes are secure.

"I'm very stressed," said Lundy, 27, a newlywed from Haiti and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump "shouldn't be running for president at all” in the Orem woman's opinion.

But Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, she says, can't be trusted.

When it comes to independents, none of them seem like serious choices in an election that will chart the course for the next four years for 320 million Americans, according to Lundy.

Which means she is still casting about for an anchor day after day, watching the news, scanning social media and brooding about the election with friends so pessimistic about the outcome that several of them — even she and her husband — have toyed with the idea of moving out of the U.S.

Experts say Lundy is not alone in her anxiety.

A poll from the American Psychological Association released last week found that 52 percent of American adults said the presidential election is a "very significant" or "somewhat significant" source of stress, with millennials and the elderly reporting the highest levels of stress.

Across the U.S., the inflammatory rhetoric and scandalous nature of the election is dominating watercooler discussions, igniting flare-ups among family and friends, and spilling into classrooms and the playground.

The rancorous nature of the election even spurred a Canadian creative agency to launch a social media campaign last week called "Tell America It's Great" to cheer up their miserable, stressed-out southern neighbors.

Megan Whitlock, a social worker at University of Utah Health Care's Redwood Health Center, said many of her patients have pointed to the election as a source of worry.

Whitlock's advice is the same as she would give to any person dealing with stress and anxiety.

"The No. 1 thing is staying with the present," she said.

Practice mindfulness and avoid catastrophizing. Be aware if you are trying to change things about the past or force something to happen in the future that you have no control over. "Those are all negative thinking patterns," she said.

According to the American Psychological Association survey, adults who use social media are more likely to say the election is a source of stress — 54 percent to 45 percent.

So step away from the 24-hour news cycle or social media and focus on what’s really happening around you, Whitlock said.

In the short term, that may mean taking a quick walk around your home and focusing on specific objects or colors you can see around you — a strategy that Whitlock uses with many of her patients.

In the long term, it may mean doing something productive in your local community. The American Psychological Association advises people to consider volunteering or voting as an opportunity for civic involvement.

"Feeling like you don't have control or are not sure where to put your energy is a really unsettling feeling," Whitlock said. "If you don't know how to focus it on something, it feels jittery. It feels disconnected. It feels disorganized."

Morgan Lyon Cotti of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics said the doom-and-gloom rhetoric surrounding the campaigns — whether it's being spread by pundits, journalists or the candidates themselves — can contribute to stress.

"We haven't seen an election like this in a long time, an election that is so negative and where it feels like the stakes are so high," she said.

But this isn't unprecedented, according to Lyon Cotti, who pointed to the infamous “Daisy” ad, which aired only once during the U.S. presidential election of 1964, that featured a little girl picking petals from a flower as an unseen man counts down to a nuclear explosion.

In a voiceover, incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson declares: "These are the stakes."

"With that kind of language, it amps up the stress that people are already feeling," Lyon Cotti said.

"When a candidate at the top of the ticket sort of throws fuel on the fire and amplifies those stresses, that's when it really takes hold," she added.

One person who's not worried is University of Utah political science professor James Curry, who said he expects this year’s election to become “more of a footnote than something that's fundamentally shifted in American democracy in any way."

"I tend to take a long view of these things," said Curry, who traces America's history of acrimonious elections back to the scandal-slinging 18th century when allegations of sexual abuse and illegitimate children flew between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, to the Watergate era in which President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

The American political system, he said, has shown remarkable adaptability to challenges and breaches of public faith.

And while Trump's rhetoric has been notable for its coarseness, it doesn't signify an unraveling of the democratic system, according to Curry.

"I expect both parties will, relatively shortly, move on from this election," he said.

Whether the U.S. political system can recover from this election, Lundy said she's doing her best to reduce her stress by trying to make a difference in the communities that matter to her. She is currently raising money to build homes for victims of the hurricane in Haiti.

As for the election?

"It has worked out in the past," Lundy said. "It must work out now." Email: Twitter: DaphneChen_


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