Election Day is finally here, and it’s sure to be one of the most anxiety-stoking days of the year. We asked stress expert Jeff Temple, associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, to share some activities we should do to make election day as manageable as possible. Some of his advice, and some of ours, below:
8 a.m.: Vote. It’s the biggest thing you can do to relieve Election Day anxiety, because it gives you a sense of agency. “Going out and voting is stress relief,” Temple says. “To manage any type of stress, do something about it.” It’s the same idea behind exposure therapy: if you're stressed out about flying, get on an airplane. If you’re stressed about who your next president will be, get out and vote.
12 p.m.: Resist the social media trap. It’s not your imagination: social media really is stressing you out. A recent poll from the American Psychological Association found that people who used social media were more likely to call the election a “very or somewhat significant source of stress” than people who didn't use it.
“This is really our first election where social media is rampant, where we’re trafficking in dogmatic points of view,” Temple says. In past elections, you could control your contact with those friends or family members that love debating the politics du jour by screening your calls.
Not so anymore, when people's thoughts and opinions are ever-present on our phones. Limiting your use of social media, then, can help you avoid a screen-induced stress response. For a minority of people, gobbling up reams of information is actually stress relieving—but that's probably not most of us. Interact with the Internet in a way that’s right for you.
3 p.m.: Put on your headphones. By now, you likely know where your colleagues fall on the political spectrum. If your views differ, stay out of the conversational fray. “No matter how wrong they are in your mind, they are still your colleagues,” Temple says, “and you’re going to have to work with them tomorrow and the next day.”
6 p.m.: Do your all-time favorite activity. What do you love more than anything else? Do it after work—maybe even more of it than you usually would. “If it’s playing video games, play more video games," Temple says. "If it's going out to eat, go out to eat.” Ditto for any activity that helps you blow off steam, like yoga, meditation or having beers with a friend.
“When we do things we’re interested in, it makes us feel better,” Temple says. And if you’ve made it this far in election season, you’ve earned it.
7 p.m.: Watch the returns with likeminded people. With tensions so high, it’s best to limit yourself to a supportive environment. “I think that watching it with divergent folks, especially with this election where the viewpoints are so divergent, is really a recipe for conflict,” Temple says. Flock with birds of your feather, in other words—at least tonight.
9 p.m.: Take a TV break. It's news to no one that binge watching TV is bad for your health, and that's doubly true if you're sitting there seriously stressed out. Every hour or two, take a walk around the block, steep yourself some tea or pour a drink, do a quick household chore. The goal is to take your mind off the incremental election results and focus it, however briefly, on something else.
11 p.m.: Go to bed. Regardless of who the next president is, getting a night of good sleep will at least make you feel better—physically if not psychologically—the next day. If you can't bear to wake up without knowing the result, keep your phone by your bed—usually a healthy sleep no-no—so that you hear the news alert when the networks call it. You don't need to be awake all night in front of the TV to get the news when it breaks.