Do you suffer from Election stress disorder?
Walking on the streets of Nairobi today, one cannot fail to notice the sense of vigilance and apprehension on the citizens as they struggle to get by. The suspicious glances over their shoulders, forlorn faces filled with anxiety, uncertainty and sense of defeat is not normal. Ordinarily Nairobian’s are bubbly optimistic people. Always in a hurry: “hustling’ as it is called to the next, business deal. But over the last few months, this optimism is slowly dying. The ‘hustle’ is no more. In its place is uncertainty and struggle to stay above powerful sense of engulfing depression .Today every loud bang is a cause for worry, every traffic raises question, every vehicle screeching to an abrupt half sends panic down our spines. No one is sure about anything anymore and the whenever you meet a stranger’s eye, it’s almost always filled with desire for assurance: that all will be well.
Dr Steven Stosny, in Psychology today has dubbed this type of phenomenon: Election Stress Disorder.
Stress of any nature tends to take a mental, emotional and physical toll on many of us. Well elections are stressful. Feeling committed to a certain candidate but not knowing whether or not they will ultimately be successful in winning is anxiety-inducing in and of itself. But engaging in a prolonged election, never ending electioneering that does not provide a clean sense of closure can exert even more stress and anxiety. This feeling is not unique to Kenyans.
Elizabeth King writing in Time magazine,(April, 2016)in reference to the US elections described this phenomena well:“If you’ve recently started to bite your nails, noticed your heart rate speeding up more frequently and are feeling increasingly nervous and helpless, it could just be the 2016 presidential election.”
Experts point to the prolonged election cycle (a year and a half) as having an impact on mental health. Add on to that sensationalized media stories, social media vitriol and an unceasing barrage of bite-sized news clips then you are in for an emotional roller coaster. Constant exposure to negative, anxiety provoking news, demonstrations and political uncertainty does impact our mental health.
Why It’s Stressful
The reason the general public’s mental health is challenged is because negative campaigning heightens stress. And when your body is faced with stress, particularly fear-based stress, the adrenal glands secrete glucocorticoid hormone to help you cope. Specifically, your body launches cortisol to help you get away from danger, where your heart rate increases, and blood flow goes to everything you need to run away or fight. This fight-flight response is meant for short term stress – and becomes wearisome if it’s elongated. You’ll eventually get irritable, anxious, and even depressed because you’re in a prolonged “state of emergency
Tips on managing Election stress disorder
Dr. Deborah Seran, in an article appearing in Psychology today has given the following tips, that can help Nairobian’s during this period of prolonged electioneering.
1. Limiting your exposure to media. Turn off the television, power down from the internet. Give yourself a break from the onslaught of negative campaigning.
2. Choose print media: If you have to plug into election news, consider choosing print media rather than visual media. Grabbing the local paper or a weekly magazine will reduce the likelihood that you’ll get exposed to emotionally triggering material.
3. Take charge. Remember, you have the power to turn off the remote, link out of a website or change the radio station. You can always put down the newspaper or turn the page. Don’t let yourself be passive when you feel negative campaigning is overwhelming you.
4. Know your limits. Other people will have a different tolerance for election issues than you. If you’ve reached a saturation point, where you don’t want to talk about politics, make your feelings known, walk away or change the subject. Try to avoid getting into political debates or wasting your passion about issues with a person who doesn’t share your beliefs. Be aware of triggers that can worsen your depressive symptoms. Avoid them or modify your environment to minimize their corrosive effect on your mental health.
5. Feed your senses. Consider having an electronic-free day. Unplug from the phone, the computer, don’t watch television or linger on social media. Let your senses take in the simpler things in life. Shift your focus to your loved ones, and invite pleasant experiences into your day. This can lower the levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
6. Inoculate yourself against post election depression. Many individuals can experience a letdown of enormous proportions if their candidate doesn’t win the election. Research tells us the more invested you are in a nominee, the more crushing their defeat can be to your own well-being. One way to prevent the negative after effects of an election is to be realistic about government and realistic about change. It’s good to always remind ourselves that change takes time and that governing is a slow process.
It’s however important to note that not everyone can effectively mitigate against Election Stress Disorder. For those of us who live with depression, or are by nature prone to other mental health challenges, continuous stress can compromise our illness. If you notice any of the a fore mentioned symptoms appear overwhelming, especially during these electioneering period, please do not hesitate to seek professional counseling or therapy. Feel free to contact us @intrapersonalhealth.com