6 ways to deal with election stress and despair

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Jun 10, 2024

6 ways to deal with election stress and despair

From anger to despair, elections can bring up a lot of feelings. Here, we’re exploring how you can navigate those experiences while engaging with the upcoming election

The countdown to the general election on 4 July is on, and the news and media is buzzing with activity as MPs and campaigners step into the spotlight to make the case for their parties.

For some, elections can be an exciting time – perhaps fueled by hope for change in the future, and confidence that better times are coming. But, for many Brits, their feelings around politics are not so positive, and this year’s election is taking a toll on their mental health.

According to research from Headspace, 44% felt despair, 35% felt anger, and 32% felt disgust at the thought of politics today. And the study also revealed some clues as to why they felt this way, with nearly a quarter sharing that they had had arguments with family members about politics, 21% having done the same with colleagues, and 17% had fallen out with friends.

“Navigating the election period can be particularly stressful, and if we’re not careful we can easily find ourselves in a state of overwhelm and persistent stress,” says Dr Sophie Mort, a clinical psychologist. “The negative impacts of this are far-reaching, with stress having the ability to cause harm for our mental, emotional and physical health. It’s imperative that we find ways to set healthy boundaries with the people in our lives and the media we consume, and prioritise our well-being throughout the election season.”

So, what steps can we take to deal with election stress and take care of our wellbeing over the next couple of weeks? Dr Mort has some ideas.

1. Schedule in ‘news-free’ time

Staying informed is very important to a lot of people. Having a good understanding of the political options that we have is what allows us to make important decisions when the time comes to vote, and having an awareness of the policies that may impact us and the people around us is, of course, vital. But, Dr Mort highlights that it’s possible to become overloaded by information.

“By establishing specific periods in the day when we refrain from checking the news, we give our minds the space it needs away from any troubling current affairs rather than subjecting ourselves to round-the-clock headlines,” she explains. “Avoiding doom-scrolling and limiting our news intake can help to prevent us from feeling overwhelmed or even cynical.”

If this is something you struggle with, you may wish to engage with the news at certain times – for example, watching the 6 o’clock news on TV each evening, rather than rolling news on social media all day. Reflect on your current relationship with the news, and consider what a good balance might look like for you.

2. Focus on what’s within your control

Hopelessness and powerlessness are common feelings when faced with something as large-scale as an election, and it can be difficult to see where you fit into the process. When it comes to dealing with these feelings, Dr Mort suggests turning inward.

“If the heaviness of the world and the upcoming election is overwhelming, we might benefit from writing down a list of everything that is on our minds,” Dr Mort suggests. “We can then go through that list and identify which items we can solve (next to each of these write what you will do and when), which items don’t need to be addressed yet, and which we need to let go of. This can help put our mind at ease and prevent our thoughts from racing.”

3. Build a mindfulness meditation practice

“In the same way that exposure to stressful news can change the neural pathways of our brain, making stress our default setting, the opposite can be achieved through a regular meditation practice,” Dr Mort shares. “The more we meditate, the more we activate our relaxation response when we need it. The Headspace app is a great resource to support us all throughout the election period, including exercises like 'Set Boundaries Around the News'."

These exercises can also help you to let go of pent-up feelings – for example, following an argument with a loved one over politics, a meditation practice that focuses around calm and clarity may leave you better able to navigate heated conversations in the future.

4. Continue to prioritise wellbeing

It’s easy to become consumed by an election, it’s a massive event that dominates the nation for its duration. But you should try not to let it interfere with your regular wellbeing activities, as these are often precisely what we need when we’re going through a difficult time.

“Often, when life feels overwhelming or stressful, we find it difficult to stay on top of practising things that are good for us,” says Dr Mort. “If we’re able to, continuing to exercise, connect with our loved ones, eat nutritiously and practise self-care will help to maintain our well-being.”

5. Set boundaries with the people around you

“Unfortunately, one of the common occurrences as we move into this season is finding ourselves in difficult conversations with people with opposing views,” Dr Mort says. “Often when in these situations, we can feel ourselves physically boiling over with stress, anger and even hurt – resulting in emotionally charged conversations that don’t benefit anyone involved.

“Throughout this time, it’s vital that we learn to build healthy boundaries with our family, friends, or colleagues. If we find ourselves falling into heightened conversations that are going nowhere useful, politely remove yourself or say, ‘I don’t think we’re going to change each other’s minds, I would appreciate it if we could end this conversation here.’ Or, ‘I value our relationship, and because of that let’s stop this discussion before it escalates any further.’”

6. Seek professional support

“If we’re experiencing consistently high levels of anxiety throughout the election season, it's essential to seek the help of a professional,” concludes Dr Mort.

Reaching out to your GP or a counsellor is a good first step to take if you are finding that stress, anxiety, or despair relating to the election is impacting your ability to go about your day-to-day life, but also if you feel you need more support in managing your feelings.

Being aware of national politics and issues is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of your wellbeing, so take action to take care of yourself if you are experiencing election stress so that you can bring your focus back to making positive change in the world around you.

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