Elections can be bad for your health.
Actually, any large-scale stressful event causes a national increase in the incidence of heart attacks and strokes, according to researchers who tracked hospitalizations for heart disease before and after the 2016 presidential election. They found that hospitalizations for cardiovascular events were 61% higher than the same two days of the preceding week. The results were the same regardless of corrections for age, race or gender.
The precise cause is unknown.
Obviously, the theory is stress spread broadly enough that it impacts nationwide numbers when examining millions of people is the reason. Common national events simply encompass the national consciousness of the entire population and it’s not simply elections that capture everyone’s attention. Cardiovascular disease event risk increases similarly after any traumatic public event, such as earthquakes or the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Anxiety is simply a psychological stressor associated with cardiovascular events and nearly 70% of respondents to a recent American Psychological Association survey said elections were a significant source of stress. This study was also the same regardless when correcting for age, race, gender or even political affiliation. It’s a bi-partisan concern. The coronavirus pandemic that has filled headlines certainly only adds to the stress this time of year. We can call it a bit of headline stress as well. But there are some ways to cope.
First, prepare ahead for uncertainty. Stressful events leave a lot of questions. The unknown can be more stressful than reality. Mentally prepare in advance for things like election delays, favorite candidates winning or losing and simply expect uncertainty. If watching the news is stressful, do something less stressful. Try not to obsess over the uncertainty of evolving events. Plan ahead to be active doing less stressful activities.
Secondly, increase stress reducing efforts. This means eating extra healthy. Get sufficient sleep and exercise. Maintain social interactions and support.
Also, plan alternate activities around stressful events. This may mean unplugging from the news and reading a book, listening to music or planning an activity with family. Staying abreast of news is important. But fill time with less stressful activity as well.
Lastly, be hopeful. Regardless of whether or not the stressful event is an election or some other stressor, most Americans when surveyed report that they remain hopeful despite their stressors. This is encouraging. Having something to look forward to is important. Seeing the horizon helps get a person through many obstacles when they look positively toward the future rather than focusing on present distress.
Whether it’s election distress, headline distress or social media distress, the idea is to take a break from these stressors and engage in alternative pursuits during the period of stress. Limit consumption of news or social media if necessary. Rather than being consumed by immediate events, be hopeful about future possibilities.
Even though elections are over in November, holiday season is close behind. Stressors don’t go away after elections, they simply change and the holiday season can be stressful for many. Treating yourself to relaxing activity is vital to prevent stressors from manifesting themselves into more serious cardiovascular events that are also present during holidays. It makes managing stress during election season and heavy news cycles even more important when Thanksgiving and Christmas soon follows the same year.
Phillip Stephens, DHSc, PA-C is affiliated with Carolina Acute Care & Wellness Center, P.A.