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Political Pressure

Stress over elections is largely unavoidable, but new research suggests techniques to cope.

Illustration by Carl Wiens.

By Glenn McDonald

It’s no secret that election season can be a stressful time, especially in recent years. But according to new research from NC State psychology professor Shevaun Neupert, people can cope with such stress with a little preparation.

In findings published this year, Neupert and her team surveyed 140 adults from across the country days before, during and just after the 2018 midterm elections. They found that people tend to get stressed as voting time approaches, especially when inundated with relentless negative advertising and increasingly fraught conversations.

The studies also found that people worry about more intense anxieties as election season ramps up. In other words, they get stressed today worrying about getting more stressed tomorrow — a phenomenon called affective forecasting. “People are actually pretty good at being able to look into the horizon of their own lives,” Neupert says. “They make predictions about what they might experience and how that might feel to them.”

That anticipation can provide a method for dealing with election stress, she says. Because elections in the U.S. are on regular schedules, people can prepare for the recurrent bummer that is election season.

Neupert suggests people use whatever stress relief methods they have in their toolbox — exercise, meditation, long walks — early in the democratic process. “We have a new understanding of the insidiousness of elections on people’s daily lives,” Neupert says. “As these things get more intense, we may have to reach for our tools more often and more regularly.”

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