Feeling stressed about this election? Keith Humphreys is a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Stanford University, and he says it’s perfectly rational and normal to feel anxious about things we can’t control.
According to a poll from the American Psychological Association, more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. said that the 2020 presidential election is a significant source of stress in their life.
Humphreys joined CapRadio’s Randol White on Insight to discuss the best ways to cope and handle the stress.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On what makes the election feel so stressful
The world has definitely changed with social media. We can now obsessively check more than once a second if we want to … And that was not possible in the age of the printed newspaper, and therefore it would be out of mind.
There might have been some polls, but they would come out really slowly. Personally, I’ve taken to reading crime novels on paper away from my computer where I can’t look at Twitter, and I can’t look at polls, and I recommend people to read a book and get away from it. It’ll drive you crazy.
On social media breaks
The evidence on social media, in general, is [that] breaks from it are good for our mental health for lots of reasons. When what we’re getting is continual fear … because we’re also in the middle of a pandemic too, you can look at that and then you can look at the election, and then you lay awake at night just shaking, and it doesn’t do you any good.
So taking those breaks … zone out, watch a movie, go for a walk, it’s a really good idea. And you know, it’s not going to go away. It’ll be there whenever you get back to it. You can set it down.
On how to channel that anxious energy towards something useful
Spend some time with your family … Missing all that part of life is not good for us, so it’s important not to get caught in that. … You can’t control what hundreds of millions of voters do, but you can control what you do.
One of the basic principles about managing our mental health is to focus on controlling the things that are actually in our power. So what I suggest to people is if you’re going nuts about some ballot initiative you really care about or some candidate, is take some action.
You know, [for example you can] work on the campaign, phone people in favor [of a ballot initiative], give out leaflets. Taking actions when we can is, first off, it’s good for our democracy, for us to participate, but it’s good for us individually because then you’re not … obsessing about things you can’t affect, you’re actually doing your part. It feels good. Use your sense of control. That’s good for your mental health.
On how to cope and not feel alone while dealing with the pandemic, the election, fires etc.
So it’s a pretty demanding time. What do you in those situations? I mean, at least one of the eternal human things is to seek the comfort of others, you know? So to just have someone to talk to, talk about how you’re feeling.
Get some sense that there are other people in it with you, and there are. Everyone is going through this. [Get] some sense of being cared about, and also a chance for you to listen to the fears of other people. That’s often the best thing we can do to get through really, really, difficult stresses like what we’ve gone through this year.
On the collective increased need for mental health providers
There’s been a lot of mental health demand this year on everybody who works in my field, and it started even before the election because the coronavirus has cut people off, you know, a lot of socialized isolation, a lot of fear, a lot of bereavement.
So we had that already, and then you have the fires, and then you have [the election]. So among the many people who are working very hard on the front lines, mental health providers are definitely one of [them] now.
Listen to the full interview on Insight.
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