With this presidential race, one thing’s clear: There’s nothing united about the states we’re in.
Longtime friendships have been bruised, wounded on the virtual battleground of social media. Voters are angry — at the divisive candidates, the system, the media and each other. They’re agitated, fearful and tense.
So much so, this has become a “thing” — a palpable, quantifiable condition some are calling election-stress disorder. More than half of voters on both sides of the aisle say the 2016 presidential race is a major source of stress, according to a report just released from the American Psychological Association. There are even physical reactions — headaches, spikes in blood pressure, stomachaches, sleep loss.
Can we make it through the next few weeks without hitting each other? The TV? Or the sauce?
Indeed, bartenders are getting an earful. “I hear it all day long,” said John McCabe, tending bar last week at The Fat Lady in Oakland’s Jack London Square. “Nobody’s just kind of on the fence. Everybody has a very animated opinion. I start hearing political conversations, and I tippy toe away to the other end of the bar.”
Outside in the square, Alex Navarro, 30, of Alameda, and co-worker Nai Saephan, 33, of Richmond were on a work break, playing Pokemon Go. “For our generation coming up, looking at our future, it’s really stressful as to who to vote for, who is less evil,” Navarro said. “How do we relieve the stress? We play Pokemon Go on break!”
“I try not to stress out, but I guess it’s not working,” said Domine Ezechukwu, 22, of Oakland, who works with kids and teens. “I checked my voter registration three times already to make sure I’m registered since I just moved back home after college, and I want to make sure my vote is heard.”
Even if not feeling anxiety, some are just plain burned out by what seems like a never-ending campaign season. As far back as July, a Pew Research Center poll showed six of 10 Americans said they were “exhausted” by the constant barrage of campaign coverage.
One Fremont man sure is. “I’m sick of it,” said Matthew, who asked his last name not be used. “I’d rather have a nail driven through my foot than watch any more of it.”
The pain is real
Sharp objects aside, the physical effects of such strong emotions are real, therapists say.
“Most of my ongoing patients in my clinical practice have brought this issue up, with discussions of disruptive sleep, increased tension and stress and feeling despondent,” said Tom Plante, psychology professor and director of the Spirituality & Health Institute at Santa Clara University.
Steven Stosny is the Washington D.C. therapist credited with coining the “election stress disorder” term. He says the negativity around this race is highly contagious. “I do mostly couples counseling and I’m seeing it taking its worst form in those relationships,” he said. “Even if on the same side politically, if one is yelling at the TV, then everyone in the household is affected. I had one just last night where the man accused his wife of Trumping him, using it as a jab.”
Then there’s the social media aspect, Stosny says, “where I’m reacting to you reacting to me then I react to you again. These so-called discussions would come across differently if you looked the person in the eye,” he said.
To be sure, if you can’t say anything nice, come say it on the internet. A recent post provides an example: “If you’re going to vote for Trump, unfriend me now, because we are not friends.”
“I just got something on Facebook today that said something about if you vote for Hillary, there will be nuclear war,” Saephan said. “You can’t even keep up with this stuff.”
“I have never seen anything like (this race),” said Ruben Uriarte, a retired researcher in Hayward. “It’s almost as if the election process was written as a movie or television script for Hollywood.”
OK, so we know there’s stress. What do we do about it?
One Peninsula woman has been struggling with campaign-related sleep loss for months. Marnie, who asked her last name not be used, couldn’t even watch reports or read articles about it, much less endure political discussions with her three brothers. “One’s a Libertarian, one’s a Republican and one’s a Democrat, so you can imagine what that would be like,” she said.
But she’s been doing better recently. “I do Buddhist practice that involves meditation. This helps me realize, no matter what the outcome is, we’ll survive it.”
Stosny says it indeed takes mindfulness to rise above the political fray. “You have to really get in touch with your own deeper values, look at the kind of person, parent, citizen you want to be,” he said. “Don’t react to a jerk by being a jerk. Do something nice for someone, something selfless, appreciate people.”
Ultimately, some voters think all this agitation may not be a bad thing, bringing deeply ingrained issues and attitudes to the surface.
“I’m almost excited in a way,” said Brett Geist, a financial services manager from San Francisco. “I see this is possibly a time when we all take a step back and agree that there is too much money going in and not enough progress coming out of the political process and government,” he said. “Things must change, and I’m hoping this has been the catalyst we needed.”
Amid the tension of these last weeks of the presidential race, try these tips to stay sane from Tom Plante, psychology professor and director of the Spirituality & Health Institute at Santa Clara University.
• Be selective with taking in news reports. Yes, it’s hard, but you don’t need to follow every detail and report.
• Talk openly with supportive others about these stress-related concerns.
• Engage in activities and topics that are productively distracting, healthy and good for your body, mind, and soul.
• Try to be forgiving and respectful. Don’t try to change the views of others, but rather try to treat others as you wish to be treated, with respect and compassion. Then try to talk about your commonalities.
• And remember — it will all be over soon.