How to Overcome or Limit ‘Election Stress Disorder’

A global pandemic. A shaky economy. Social unrest and widespread natural disasters. Could 2020 be any more stressful?  It turns out the answer is: yes. The majority of adults in the U.S. are also experiencing so-called ‘election stress disorder.’

According to a survey published by the American PsychologicalAssociation in October, 68percent of Americans say that the 2020 Presidential election is a significantsource of stress in their life. That’s up from 52 percent reported during the2016 election.

The term election stress disorder is attributed to therapist andauthor Steven Stosny, Ph.D., who coined it during the contentious election of2016. While it is not an actual medical diagnosis, it is a real phenomenon markedby increased anxiety, sleep disruptions and difficulty concentrating. 

Don’t count on it disappearing at the stroke of midnight onNovember 3rd. Some pundits are predicting that the final outcome ofthe vote may not be known for days, or even weeks, after election day.

With that in mind, the Baptist HealthTalk podcast took a closer look at election stress disorder and how to deal with it. Hosted by Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., chief of cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute and chief population health officer for Baptist Health, and featuring psychiatrist Rachel Rohaidy, M.D., the conversation centered on healthy strategies for coping during this especially stressful time. Check out the Q&A below for highlights of the episode.

You can access this andother Baptist HealthTalk podcast episodes on your computer or smartphone,or via Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Dr. Fialkow: “Let’s talk about election stress disorder, as it’s been called bysome in the media. How is that affecting the patients you’re seeing?”  

Dr. Rohaidy: “What I’m seeing is just this increase in anxiety disorders,generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and inundation of information.

“We have this great technology. We have our phones that are basicallycomputers in our hands, right? And so, what I tell people is just to kind oflimit, limit the amount of information you’re receiving, limit the amount oftime that you’re online and watching news. Remember, we can’t controleverything. We can only control us. So, if we can try to limit the amount ofinformation, our inundation, I think that we can really help to mitigate someof these stressful factors.”

Dr. Fialkow: “As a cardiologist, I’m seeing, and I’m sure other physicians areas well, palpitations, not sleeping well, overeating, you mentioned substanceabuse. These are real physical concerns, physical manifestations of thesestress-related situations. Speak a little bit about that mind/body connection.”

Dr. Rohaidy: “Absolutely. Our minds are connected to our bodies, right? Ourbrain is connected. There’s no separation between brain and body. So,everything that we’re feeling, we feel throughout our entire body and thatstress, that low mood is kind of like the foot on the pedal, on the gas of ourrunaway stress response system.

“We’re not talking about just a fight or flight moment, right? We’retalking about chronically turned on stress response system. So high levels ofcortisol. And that brings a strain to the heart, to our blood vessels.

“We find that we are eating more. So we have more chances ofobesity and we’re increasing cholesterol, increasing rates of diabetes, ourpossibility of stroke. And so, having this stress response system chronicallyon at high levels all the time, isn’t doing our body any good. And it’sactually bringing on some medical chronic illnesses.”

Dr. Fialkow: “So, what are the kind of things that people can do? What would besome of these coping mechanisms? You already mentioned turning off the TV andsocial media.

Dr. Rohaidy: “I really have three top things. Number one is setting limits, havingtime for yourself and not being inundated with all this information. I say thatto everyone, I have to practice it myself. Half of the week, I’m home working.When you’re done, you’re done, that’s it. Put away the phone, no more emails,no more social media, no TV, have family time and set those limits and followthose limits. And don’t just set them for yourself, set them for the wholefamily.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Let’s keep going.”

Dr. Rohaidy: “Okay. The second one is sitting with your emotions, accepting youremotions, right? Taking care of your feelings, being mindful. So, it’s normalto be stressed. It’s normal to be upset. It’s normal to be anxious, right? Sit,realize what you’re feeling and how it affects you physically.

“I think it’s very important to be aware of what is normal andwhat is not normal. And so, having been presented with a situation and beingangry about it, that’s normal. Being stressed about it, that is somethingnormal, but allowing it to ruminate through the day and take up your entire dayand you can’t work because of it, and you can’t have dinner with your familybecause you’re too upset. When it starts kind of bleeding into social functionsand work functions, that’s when you have to say, ‘Wait a minute, I need to gethelp for this. There’s something there that I can’t control. I can’t bring thisback. So, I need to reach out to somebody.’ ”

Dr. Fialkow: “So that would be like if you’re avoiding certain things thatnormally you would take part of, if you’re not getting out of bed in themorning, I mean, something that’s really impacting your normal daily life. Isthat a way to look at it?”

Dr. Rohaidy:

Absolutely. And thenmy last tip is that you’re human, don’t take on too much. You’re human. It’sokay to cry. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to have these feelings. And again,once it starts impacting negatively your life, that’s the point where you say, ‘Allright, this is beyond my control now. And now I need to reach out for help.’”

Dr. Fialkow: “We all try to be superhuman and we have to be there for ourselvesand family members. And we judge ourselves if we can’t cope, but these areoverwhelming times and people should reach out.”

Dr. Rohaidy: “Right. Many times patients say to me, ‘I thought I could do it onmy own. I guess I’m not strong enough.’ And I try to always tell them you’restrong because you’ve reached out for help.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Right.”

Dr. Rohaidy: “That’s what gives you strength. It’s not that you’ve fallen. It’show you pick yourself up.”

Dr. Fialkow: “You and I have talked about this in the past. People shouldrealize with the advent of telemedicine and virtual visits, people couldactually get help. They don’t have to leave their home. Are you usingtelemedicine visits in your practice? Are you seeing others do it as well?”

Dr. Rohaidy: “I am, absolutely. In both of my offices I am seeing patientsonline and I’m also seeing in person, but it has brought accessibility topeople. It takes about 10 years for someone to actually get psychiatric help —to even notice it themselves or actually reach out to a psychiatrist. And Ithink that now with these new online platforms it’s been accessible and peopleare reaching out, people are seeing the importance of it.”

Dr. Fialkow: “Anything else you’d like to bring up before we wrap up?”

Dr. Rohaidy: “I think a really important factor for all of us during this reallystressful time is going to be really coming together as a family unit, havingthat family dinner. Children, teens, adults alike, we are inundated with a lotof this stress because of the unprecedented times that we find ourselves in.Having a moment to have a nice dinner with your family — I mean, it doesn’thave to be nice, it could be pizza, It could be whatever you want — but havingthat moment to actually talk to your family members and coming together, Ithink it’s going to be really key for us in the coming weeks.”

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