Health & Medicine

How to reduce stress until the elections are over? Here’s help

Need to de-stress? Try watching the bear cams at Katmai National Park in Alaska.
Need to de-stress? Try watching the bear cams at Katmai National Park in Alaska. Katmai National Park

The balloons are deflated, the confetti has been swept up and the weary delegates have gone home. The political conventions have ended, but Election Stress 2016 is far from over.

Three months remain until the presidential election is decided, plenty of time for you to find yourself embroiled in bitter arguments with significant others, friends, family, co-workers, strangers on Twitter, the guy in front of you in line at the grocery store.

With the lengthy political season, there’s plenty of potential for mental and emotional burnout. There’s high interest in the election — a national survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this summer reports that 77 percent of respondents found it “interesting,” and only 17 percent found it “dull” (don’t ask me what those 17 percenters were watching).

But there’s a high stress factor in watching the combative race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (and third- and fourth-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein). The fact that the Pew Research Center reports that voter satisfaction with both of the major party candidates is at its lowest in decades just seems to make everyone crankier.

So how to keep the battles to a minimum over the next few months? Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UHealth-University of Miami Health System, said there are a few things to keep in mind about election season.

“Whatever the outcome of our election, this is a strong country founded on wise and thoughtful principles and a system of checks and balances,” said Dhabhar, who recently just arrived at UM from Stanford University. “We should all stay involved and engaged and be watchful, see where things need to get better and act on those areas to improve them. However, we don’t need to live in constant fear, anger or stress worrying that only bad things are going to happen.”

Most of the stress of the election season is manageable, he says.

“The key to dealing with stress and also helping one another in a constructive manner is to be respectful, caring and compassionate even as we have disagreements and to do your best to help and work with the other side, no matter what side of the political spectrum someone falls on,” he says. “If we do this diligently, not only will we reduce our immediate stress but also tremendously help one another and our nation in the long run.”

Here are a few other tips on how to keep your stress level manageable when the political discussions heat up.

▪  Exercise and get a good night’s sleep. Pretty basic, but both of these things can help you deal with stress, Dhabhar says. One thing to remember: “They may not always work and may not work for everyone. … even for the same person they may work differently at different times.” But trying isn’t going to hurt, so take a walk and don’t stay up all night arguing on Facebook.

▪  Try meditation. Listen, none of us can easily sit still and breathe quietly without squirming. But with Dhabhar’s caveat in mind – that all stress busters work better for some than others — attempting to sit quietly and breathe for a few minutes each day might alleviate some anger.

▪  Limit time on social media. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that if the news is causing you stress, take a break from the news. If your job requires your presence on Facebook or Twitter, make good use of the Unfollow option, even if it’s just temporary. Better yet, watch something unpolitically mesmerizing: the bear cam from Katmai National Park. No Republicans or Democrats or Independents, no stress — unless you’re a salmon.

▪  Listen to music. Websites such as Lifehack.org tout the relaxing and healing properties of music. And sure, the gentle rhythms of New Age piano might help calm you when you’re agitated. But if you require an instant good mood and positive outlook after a Facebook fight? We recommend an immediate dose of “September” by Earth Wind & Fire. Repeat as necessary.

▪  Don’t eat pizza every night. Sure, it’s comfort food, but you’ll feel better if you eat a more balanced meal. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion offers dietary guidelines for a healthy lifestyle, and nowhere does it say an extra large with sausage and pepperoni is crucial for stress management.

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