Elec­tion stress ... it’s a real thing now

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FIFTY PLUS - By An­gela Hill Bay Area News Group

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 Jack Lon­don Square, Oak­land, Calif. “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, Calif., and co-worker Nai Saephan, 33, of Rich­mond, Calif., 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, Calif., 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, Calif., 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, Santa Clara, Calif.

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 so­called 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

“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.”

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, Calif. “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, Calif., 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.”

Pos­i­tive spin?

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, Calif. “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.”

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY JEFF DURHAM/BAY AREA NEWS GROUP/ DIGITAL FIRST ME­DIA

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